A year on from the not too difficult victory over the Saddam Hussein regime, which didn’t even bother to put up much of a fight, Iraq still appears anything but pacified, and indeed in a state of permanent war. It is similar to the way it was in Lebanon for 18 years and as it continues to be in Palestine, Somalia, in ex-Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Chechnya…
The latest media broadsides tell of the militias turning to a certain Moqtada al-Sadr, a young Shi’ite priest, inevitably pictured with regulation beard and turban, who was virtually unknown until a couple of weeks ago, but has immediately been promoted to ’enemy number one’ of the United States. Indeed, so dangerous is he considered that Lieutenant-general Richard Sanchez, the commander of the American troops in Iraq, has declared his capture ’dead or alive’ as a ’primary objective’; just as capturing Saddam Hussein was a few weeks ago, and as capturing that other ’paragon of evil’, Osama bin Laden, remains still.
According to this line, ’terrorism’ is organised at an international level by Bin Laden, who is said to have sworn war on the USA for some reason known only to himself, whether religious, political, personal… who knows?
However, it is important not to get swept up in this constant parade of personalities, demons, and heroes, served up to the imbecile ’general public’ of North and South as though they were characters in a comic opera, which in fact many of them probably are. The script goes something like this: Bin Laden had his headquarters in Afghanistan and was protected by the Taleban regime (which the United States had in its time organised, and armed, to fight the pro-Russian regime): it was therefore necessary to attack Afghanistan to drive him out, but Bin Laden managed to get away on an old motorcycle. It then became necessary to attack Iraq, where the ’dictator’ ex-ally Saddam Hussein was both producing, and still in illegal possession of, weapons of mass destruction, was protecting terrorists, and was contemplating attacking the West…
After occupying Iraq, destroying the state apparatus and dissolving the Baath party and the army, victory was solemnly proclaimed. But tenacious guerrilla warfare continued to cause a steady stream of deaths amongst the occupying troops: the problem, it was said, was Saddam Hussein, who was still issuing orders to the troops from his secret hiding place. But, after the capture, hidden in a hole in the ground, of the Iraqi ’ace of Spades’, guerrilla warfare has continued unabated. Now the enemy is this minor priest, who is the son, however, of a very important priest: the ’great ayatollah’ Mohammed Sadek Sadr, assassinated in fact in 1999 by Saddam Hussein.
Meanwhile, over the last few days, in the city of Fallujah 60 kilometers to the west of Baghdad, battles have broken out between alleged ’Sunni’ militias and American soldiers. The latter, who don’t do things by halves, proceeded to do their job and reduced a large part of the city to rubble. Even a member of the Iraqi council, nominated by the USA, described the American assault as "a collective punishment inflicted on the inhabitants". Seventy or so dead were reported among the American troops, and about 600 dead, and thousands of wounded, amongst the civilian population who were trying to flee the bombardment. It is also rumoured that the second battalion of the new Iraqi army, trained by the USA, refused to intervene. The Fallujah massacre prompted various resignations by members of the Iraqi government who no longer wished to compromise with the occupying power.
The United States needs this war in the same way as they need Iraqi oil to fight and win it. In mid-April, the Provisional Authority of the Coalition (PAC) made known that "in the time it has governed Iraq, Baghdad has exported petrol to the value of more than 7.5 Billion dollars" and that this sum "has been deposited by the Authority, under the supervision of the USA, in its Iraqi Development Fund". In short, the cost of the occupation of Iraq is being paid for with Iraqi petrol revenue. According to OPEC the value of the Iraqi oil exports is even higher: in 2003 it was 9.6 billion dollars and this year it is expected to be over 16.5 billion. Based on the official 2004 budget published by the PAC, income from oil is due to increase sevenfold between 2003 and 2006. The fund is controlled by the PAC’s Management and Budget Office, which answers directly to the US administrator of Iraq, Paul Bremer.
Iraqi oil is now American "stuff", and Washington isn’t about to give it back; not even if Bush, as is possible, is substituted by the elusive John Kerry, who has already written in the Washington Post, "If our military commanders require more soldiers we must send them (…) We must persuade NATO to create a new ’out of area’ operation in Iraq under the supervision of an American commanding officer". In short, as Il Manifesto writes, "Kerry has announced that he wants to carry on with the war and with the occupation". The Americans have been accused by the Europeans of incompetence and of underestimating the problem, and even their English allies have criticised their way of going about things since it is increasingly bolstering their opponents’ front. But it is not just a matter of incompetence. In its March 14 issue Il Manifesto reported how the senior American official, General Richard Myers, the president of the joint chiefs of staff, described, in a Pentagon briefing of April 7, America’s role in deliberately inciting the events which occurred in the first half of April: the aim being to legitimise the long-term presence of American troops in Iraq. It’s just that maybe sometimes things get out of hand and the Iraqi reaction is stronger than expected by the Stars and Stripes strategists.
Indeed, the June 30 deadline is fast approaching: that is, the date by which the Americans, under pressure from the rival powers, have had to promise to concede some ’autonomy’ to an ’independent’ Iraqi government, to arrive then at ’free’ elections. But Iraqi domestic ’autonomy’ means nothing more than sharing the petrol revenue with the country’s dominant classes, and the abundant ’reconstruction’ contracts with the other imperialist brigands; something which the Americans corporations are obviously keen to postpone as long as possible.
"We don’t think that date (June 30) important militarily in terms of changing our tactics, procedures and techniques, nor our mission" declared American General Mark Kimmit, deputy director of Coalition operations. "We expect to be operating on July 15 exactly as we’ll be operating on June 15".
The United States can no longer rely on those considerable means of corruption which it deployed at the end of the Second World war; that imperialist financial infiltration which permeated the defeated countries. It has nothing to offer the Iraqis but corruption, repression and idle chatter about ’Freedom’ and ’Democracy’. Outside Iraq all the imperialist rivals lie waiting in ambush and inside Iraq all classes are rising up against it. The occupiers can only find support amongst the reinstated local ’war lords’, in the incursions of armed bands, with those backed by America always ending up the strongest and best organised. All they can work towards, therefore, is an increasing balkanisation of Iraq. Even the Provisional Constitution, approved in the first week of March, paves the way to chaos in the future by dividing the country into three ethnic states (Kurdish in the North, Sunni in the centre and Shi’ite in the South). The seething foam of partisanism, on which the Americans intend to float their pontoon, will undoubtedly prove a secure antidote to class struggle, and maybe this is its most important function of all.
Bush’s policy on Iraq (if you can call it that) mirrors that of his man in Israel, Ariel Sharon: domination maintained by a perpetual state of war mobilisation. The anti-Americanism which is diffused throughout Iraq and the Arabic countries doesn’t, paradoxically, worry the American bourgeoisie and is the fruit of Washington’s policies. The crisis-ridden imperialist juggernaut holds no prospects for millions of disinherited Iraqis who, with the collapse of the regime, find themselves destitute. This is why it has taken to launching ferocious reprisals over large urban areas to ’flush out the terrorists’, and is making arbitrary arrests. The Shi’ite and Sunni priests, taking advantage of the ill-feeling which is the inevitable upshot, then step in and utilise that capillary diffusion, common to all churches, of their religious network; and their money, lots of money, to arm and pay the militias so as to mobilise more and more followers against the occupiers. Other bourgeois States, near and far, can in their turn collaborate by financing and arming their own war bands.
Thus it is war, war at any cost, deprived of any long-term political strategy. Capital, of which the United States is the greatest global representative, needs war in order to survive its historic crisis, and it intends to progressively draw the entire planet into the vortex of destruction.
Today the Iraqi proletariat is squeezed between two terrorisms,
American on one side and Islamic on the other. Tomorrow, capital will probably
come up with two new poles to fight for, but in essence they will remain
Translated form Il Partito Comunista, no.148, April 1986.
THE "POPULAR FRONT" TRIUMPHS IN SPAIN
Bilan no. 28, March-April 1936
AGAINST THE IMPERIALIST FRONT FOR THE MASSACRE OF SPANISH
WORKERS WE MUST OPPOSE THE CLASS FRONT OF THE INTERNATIONAL PROLETARIAT
Bilan no. 34, August-September 1936
THE SPANISH IMPERIALIST WAR AND THE MASSACRE OF THE
Bilan no. 44, October-November 1937
(Bulletin international de discussion de la gauche communiste italienne,
June 1944, no. 6)
IV - The Founding of the Communist Party of Italy:
IV.2 - Proletarian struggles betrayed by the PSI
A decline in workers’ struggles and an offensive by the dominant classes characterised the international situation. The Italian proletariat had already launched an attack in the Summer of 1919 and in April 1920 and had had to battle with the forces of order. This time, in the second half of 1920, it was a case of a defensive action in the face of the intransigent refusal on the part of the industrialists in the iron and steel and engineering industries to accept the new collective labour contract, which had been obtained by the Rome concordat of August/September 1919.
The proletariat took action immediately, but their movement remained restricted within the factory walls. The slogan "workers’ control", raised by the socialist and trade-union leaders, and leading to endless discussions about what form such control should take, served only to delude the working masses and weaken the movement. The delusion lay ,in fact, in the notion that power had been conquered simply by taking possession of the factories, rather than by taking possession of the central organisations of bourgeois domination. Even if they were bypassed due to the sheer scale of the movement, the leaders of the FIOM and CGL still managed to keep it under their control until the very end, showing yet again that the trade union right was dominating the maximalist centre, which served as its accomplice in paralysing the labour movement.
The Italian government tried to intervene as little as possible in the hope that the proletarian fire would extinguish itself naturally through lack of oxygen. Furthermore, and it was by no means fortuitous, the failure of this attack by the workers coincided with the birth of the fascist offensive against an enemy grown vulnerable through the very fact of its withdrawal into the workplace, and weakened by its dependence on reformism. Giolitti’s velvet glove and the fascist iron fist would divide the task of sapping the proletariat of its last reserves of energy, and do so very effectively.
Let’s look at the facts. On the 30th August, 1920, the Milan section of the FIOM ordered the occupation of 300 of the region’s metallurgical factories. The occupation of the factories would be almost total in the Milan-Turin-Genoa industrial triangle, and also spread to many other parts of Italy. Between the 1st and 4th of September, 400,000 workers took possession, "in an extraordinarily peaceful way" of metallurgical works, and in a few cases, chemical and textile factories etc. The problem arose of extending the strike to all the other categories of workers. The CGL, which until that point had remained passive spectator, worked skilfully to take control of the movement. On September 4, a meeting took place between the majority of the CGL’s steering committee; a representative of the socialist leadership; delegates from the main camere del lavoro (chambers of labour) in North and Central Italy; and the FIOM. Negotiations took place between two government representatives and D’Aragona (CGL), Buozzi (FIOM), the parliamentary socialists Turati and Treves, and representatives of the moderate wing of the industrialists, including Agnelli. The latter would end up by accepting the principle of a control over the industries by the trade-union organisations in the form of, "collaboration and co-responsibility for the different elements of production", just as Turati and D’Aragona had many times proposed! The bill was never discussed in Parliament, and Giolitti, the head of the government, left it to moulder in his desk drawer.
On September 9 there was a meeting between the CGL and some of the socialist leaders. The CGL refused to allow the PSI to take over the leadership of the movement, which was what the maximalists wanted. The PSI Directorate bowed to the pressure from the reformists and postponed the discussion… On September 10, at a meeting of the National Council of the CGL, the party leadership, in the person of Gennari, accepted the vote which had gone in D’Aragona’s favour, that is: that the PSI would officially leave the leadership of the movement to the CGL. Thus did the PSI discharge its historical responsibility!
The concordat which had been signed in Rome on September 19 was accepted by the extraordinary congress of the FIOM on 21-22 September, despite the fact it only recognised some of the workers’ demands. This was an open betrayal by the trade unions and the reformists, and the abstentionist section in Turin would call for an immediate split from the PSI. This proposal was rejected by the fraction’s central committee.
Be that as it may, the setback suffered to the occupation of the factories didn’t represent, as was said on many sides, a "missed revolution". The working class was quick to defend itself, but wasn’t materially prepared to mount an offensive; the unfavourable social situation and a dominant class which had recovered from the perils of the post-war period, whose state apparatus was managed by the astute and calculating Giolitti, and supported by the fascist offensive, wouldn’t allow it. The wave of popular discontent receded in the same measure as the illusion of democracy was revived inside the working class by the electoral and parliamentary successes. Furthermore, since the PSI was dominated by a reformist perspective, the class lacked revolutionary political guidance.
Only the Abstentionist Fraction, whose participation in the movement wasn’t based on the possibility of an immediate revolution, was conscious of this state of affairs. During the debate on fascism at the 4th Congress of the Communist International, the Fraction’s representative would declare, «I do not believe, as comrade Zinoviev has been saying over the last few days, that the PSI could have fought a revolution in Italy; but at least it should have got itself into a condition where it could provide a solid organisation for the revolutionary forces of the working class». And in 1970 , in an interview, he declared, «the proletariat movement which involved the well known occupation of the factories reached its peak in the Autumn of 1920, that is, after the return to Italy of the delegates who had attended the 2nd congress of the Communist International in Moscow. The Ordine Nuovo group’s assessment of the possible revolutionary opportunities offered by that movement was altogether different, in fact directly opposed, to Il Soviet’s. At the time, Il Soviet wrote an article which was critical of the Turinese entitled, ’To Take the Factory, or Take Power?’. Taking matters of principle as our starting point, we rejected Gramsci’s assertion that the communist revolution could open with the conquest of the workshops and their economic-technical management by the workforce. In our view, the political forces of the workers needed to take the lead by launching assaults on the police stations and State prefectures in order to start off the large-scale movement, by the proclamation of a victorious and total general strike, which was required in order to achieve and install the political dictatorship of the proletariat. This vision of a possible outcome was clearly sensed by the shrewd and capable head of the Italian forces of the bourgeoisie, Giovanni Giolitti. Indeed, when the industrialists called for armed intervention by the public forces to expel the workers occupying the factories, and to restore the factories to their legitimate owners, it was he who made sure the request fell on deaf ears. Giolitti’s view at the time was that leaving the plants in the hands of the workers meant leaving them with a weapon which was totally ineffective since it didn’t threaten to overturn the power and privilege of the capitalist minorities; and as for the workers’ management of the instruments of production, it certainly wouldn’t open the door to a non-private regime of social production. Our tactical line therefore required that the class party of the proletariat should prioritise extending its influence and control not over the factory councils and electoral slates of the internal commissions, which is what "Ordinovism" wanted, but rather over the traditional trade-union organisations of the working class. That, then, is what clearly separated me from Gramsci during that phase. I never accepted that the general occupation of the factories was taking us, or might have taken us, closer to the social revolution which we wanted».
The ordinovist militants from Turin only drew partial lessons from this conflict. Gramsci, after having adulated the occupation of the factories, realised the impasse into which the workers had been placed by the maximalist-reformist leadership and recognised, therefore, the necessity of the revolutionary party. The Turinese group, furthermore, hadn’t played any leading role in the movement, and a profound crisis had broken out in June due to a dispute arising between Gramsci and Tasca. This crisis drew the majority of the ordinovist group into the struggle for the founding of the class party (Terracini, Togliatti, Tasca, Leonetti), whilst Gramsci preferred to abstain from disputes and "observe and evaluate". At the elections of the new Executive Commission of the Turinese socialist section (July 24) two motions would be presented: the winning motion (receiving 141 votes) was put forward by the "communist electionists" and called for, "a purge, to be conducted not in a sectarian spirit, but with the maximum energy". The other one, submitted by the "communist abstentionists" gained 54 votes, and re-proposed the theses which had just been passed at the Fraction’s congress. It put forward as its primary objective the constitution of the communist party, and the elimination of the "reformists and counter-revolutionaries" from the socialist party. Gramsci, along with six other comrades, limited himself to presenting a declaration for the constitution of a group distinct from the other two tendencies (which, it is well to note, both demanded the constitution of the communist party with the purging of the reformist tendencies). This group led by Gramsci, called itself "communist education" and received 17 votes for its statement.
The real lesson of the occupation of the factories was it confirmed that the working class, even if weakened by years of badly led struggles, still possessed an extraordinary capacity for resistance against the bosses’ attacks, but that it was still in thrall to a political and trade-union leadership which maximalism was incapable of opposing.
This state of affairs was blocking all serious attempts at revolutionary preparation for favourable situations in the future, however near or far off they might be. It also prevented the defence of working class positions from the moment that opportunism encouraged the councilist and democratic illusions of workers control. For these reasons, following the harsh experience of September 1920, the best proletarian elements, even if they stood on very different positions to Il Soviet; even if they were badly prepared from a theoretical point of view, orientated themselves towards a party split.
The balance-sheet of the factory occupation movement was an unhappy
one, but valuable lessons were learnt.
IV.3 - The political tendencies inside the PSI
a. The Turatian right
The episode of the factory occupations showed that the PSI was dominated by its right wing both on the political, and on the trade-union and organisational levels. The mass of the party, as Il Soviet would write on October 24, 1920, was even more the prisoner of the right than it had been at the end of the war.
In Moscow, Serrati had defended the reformists Turati, Treves, D’Aragona etc… endlessly repeating to Lenin that they represented only themselves and, furthermore, that they couldn’t be compared with the Russian Mensheviks; who the party would have subjected to its discipline and who wouldn’t have been able to sabotage the revolution!
As a consequence, and in clear contravention of the regulations issued at the 2nd Congress of the international, the Italian Socialist Party didn’t take any measures to purge the party of counter-revolutionary elements. Although the 2nd congress of the CI had finished on 7.8.20, the PSI Directorate didn’t meet until September 28 to discuss its conclusions, and the famous letter from the International’s Executive Committee to the Italian socialists (a letter the PSI was careful not to publish – so at that time it was the socialists who were keeping the archive documents secret!!!). It would take three days of discussion – until October 1st – to finally pass a resolution declaring acceptance of the Moscow’s 21 conditions and agreeing to a "radical purging" of the reformists in the party, referring procedures and ways and means to the national congress.
In the meantime the Turatian right had organised itself into the "Concentration Fraction", and in Milan, on August 30, it issued a manifesto in which it attacked the maximalists for their demagoguery and inertia, and blamed them for reinforcing the power of the ruling class. At its congress in Reggio Emilia on 10-11 October 1920, the Concentration Fraction declared that only they were truly revolutionary and accused maximalism of having, by its inaction, dispersed the revolutionary impetus. In their final motion, drawn up by Baldesi and D’Aragona, the reformists laid claim to, «the name of the party, the intentions and educational spirit of its propaganda, the good day to day administrational and organisational work, and the work within the cooperatives and trade-unions».
They confirmed their adherence to the 3rd International, their acceptance of the 21 points in respect of "interpretative autonomy" and the "conditions in each country", and asked for the expulsion from the party of the masons and groups with anarchistic leanings. They even recognised the dictatorship of the proletariat (though only as a transitory necessity and not as a programmatic obligation), and the use of violence and illegal methods in the class struggle.
The motion declared that the reformists would support, "all possible attempts at approximation to the socialist regime". In Critica Sociale, Treves finally noticed that, polemics aside, the reformist theses were in substantial agreement with Serrati’s. And it was true. By leaning in the direction of maximalist centrism, the reformists were trying to don a mantle of political virginity in order to ward off their expulsion from the party.
This puerile manoeuvre was unmasked by the right fraction itself. In the December 24th edition of La Giustizia, its newspaper, the right professed to support, "the major part of the theoretical assertions of the Mensheviks, with the exception of the proposal to constitute a 4th International. On the contrary, we must enter the 3rd International and work in such a way that the decisions taken at the 2nd congress are modified in order to allow the International to bring all the socialist forces together". Opportunism could hardly have enunciated its programme more clearly: to penetrate the International with the aim of removing its historical character of harsh selection of the "socialist" forces!
b. The Maximalists
The maximalist current led by Serrati appeared lifeless compared with the dynamic right. If in France and Germany a considerable number of centrists accepted Moscow’s 21 conditions for entering the new party, in Italy, the representatives of the majority of the PSI, a party which had been member of the 3rd International since 1919, took up a stance which rendered the split inevitable. Inadvertently, they thus made possible the constitution of a party founded on theoretical foundations which were untainted by misunderstandings or reservations.
But Moscow’s 21 Conditions didn’t appear in Avanti! until September 21, and the review, Comunismo, didn’t publish the letter from the E.C. of the International until October 15. According to Serrati, these delays could be explained by the fact that the resolutions of the 2nd Congress needed revising for more than one reason; most importantly of all, as Comunismo wrote on September 15, because the congress hadn’t been properly prepared and organised, and because the Bolsheviks weren’t very well informed.
The meeting of the PSI Directorate finally took place on September 28 and was the first to be held since the 2nd World congress. So the unitarian formula of Serrati was, «It is just a matter of liberating the party by means of an energetic purge of those elements, who, both during and after the war, continually provided weapons to our enemies (…) The unity of our party – along with all the reconstructive organisms that it managed to create in the class revolution – must remain intact, against every attack from right and left. All those who want to be with us, right and left, we must keep them; especially since it is events themselves, more powerful than men, which conduct everybody inevitably to the left, towards revolution».
Serrati maintained that, «ill-advised Russian expressions and norms should be tempered by that Italian shrewdness, which, without abandoning the communist programme, adapts them to the particular circumstances of our country».
The meeting of the PSI Directorate (September 28 - October 1, 1920) marked the beginning of the maximalist crisis. In response to the vote in favour of the Moscow resolutions Serrati handed in his resignation to Avanti!. As we know it was not accepted by a unanimous decision. A few days later, however, Serrati would tender his resignation as the director of the Turinese edition of the paper following an article about D’Aragona, Colombino, etc., (who were members of the trade union delegation to the 2nd Congress in Moscow). The attack by the Turinese newspaper rather queered Serrati’s pitch: only two days before he had attended a meeting with the trade unionists at which a joint declaration was approved which was portrayed as a great success for the unitarian policy.
Some days earlier, in Milan, there had been a meeting of representatives of the extremist fractions within the PSI at which the Communist Fraction had been officially constituted. A further controversy, of far greater importance, was subsequently sparked off between Serrati on the one side, and Lenin and Zinoviev on the other.
Two open letters to Serrati, written by Zinoviev on October 22 and 23, stated that the destiny of the Italian revolution would depend on the capacity of the socialist party to free itself from the reformist elements who were sabotaging the proletarian revolution. Zinoviev affirmed, furthermore, that anyone who, at that moment, was trying to unite with the reformists or semi-reformists was, as far as the revolution was concerned, committing a crime. A message from the E.C. of the International to the Communist Fraction (23.10.20) stated, «If Serrati and his friends want to defend the Communist International, if they want to make an effective contribution to the formation of a real Communist Party in Italy, they must join your fraction. This is the only possibility, and the E.C. of the C.I is unable to agree to, or approve, any other solution (…) We recognise no other communist fraction in Italy apart from yours. All those who aren’t with us are against us». The text of the message appeared in Il Comunista (the fraction’s organ) on November 21. In the same number, notice was given of the convocation, at Imola, of the Communist Fraction’s congress on 28/29 November.
In two related articles on the Italian Socialist party’ (November 4 and December 11, 1920), Lenin wrote, «What constitutes this specific feature of Italy is the fact that the reformists have already proved incapable in practice of carrying out party decisions and pursuing party policy. By evading this fundamental issue, the resolution of the advocates of unity with the reformists utterly defeats itself. By this fact alone, Serrati, Baratono, Zannerini, Bacci and Giacomini have already shown quite clearly and irrefutably that they are fundamentally wrong, that their political line is fundamentally false. The discussion in the Italian party’s Central Committee has ever more forcefully revealed the total falsity of Serrati’s line. The Communists were right in saying that as long as the reformists remained what they were they could not but sabotage the revolution, as they had already sabotaged it during the recent revolutionary movement of the Italian workers who were taking over the factories. That is the pith and marrow of the question! How is it possible to prepare for revolution and advance towards decisive battles, when there are people in the party who sabotage the revolution? That is not merely a mistake but a crime». In the December 11 article, he wrote: «On the eve of the proletarian revolution, the liberation, the freedom, of the parties of the revolutionary proletariat from opportunists and "Centrists", from their influence, their prejudices, their weaknesses and vacillations, is the main and essential condition of success».
Assembled in congress on November 20/21 in Florence, the Communist Unitarian Fraction of the PSI voted on a motion which stated that the socialist party had, «already effectively conquered political power», and therefore it alone could, «assure the proletariat of the overthrow of the bourgeois regime, reconstruction, and the communist order». What’s more, it was stated that, following the congresses at Reggio Emilia, in 1912 (expulsion of the reformists), and Ancona, in 1914, (expulsion of the masons), «the revolutionary and totally intransigent tendency has dominated the party unopposed, drawing behind it the right fractions and the confederated trade union organisations by subordinating the former with strict discipline, and the latter with a clear pact of alliance». In conclusion, the maximalist convention declared, «the necessity for our party to conserve its unitary membership in order that by our action we achieve the best, and most rapid, revolutionary outcome». On the relations with the International it was said that the PSI accepted Moscow’s 21 conditions in their entirety, but that these 21 points should be interpreted, «according to the particular historical conditions of our country».
The maximalist convention in Florence was held shortly after a new socialist "victory" in the administrative elections, and at the same time as the fascist offensive in Bologna against "red power". As a consequence of this latest electoral victory, Maximalism would argue for uniting the party with the right wing which controlled a good part of the municipal and provincial administrations. Thus, from the columns of Avanti!, on December 16 Serrati responded to Lenin in the following terms «The only country – after Russia – which finds itself socialistically in a favourable condition to fight against the bourgeoisie, is Italy (…) Our party has a membership of 250,000, 150 members of parliament, and controls 2,500 municipalities. The organisations of economic resistance have more than two and a half million members. We control around a thousand cooperatives. We have the terrain and the materials for the reconstruction».
On December 7, Serrati sent a letter to the CI in which he declared, «The position we are in, in Italy, is very different to that in countries. Here there is nobody asking to leave the 3rd international, and nobody supports the Berne Congress. If there were a split, it would be entirely to the advantage of our enemies, and our movement would find it absolutely impossible to emerge from the deadlock in which it has been placed due to the inexperience of the left insurrectionists». So Serrati’s opportunism didn’t just restrict itself to presenting the Italian right-wingers as indispensable elements of the party and of the revolutionary cause, it went one step further, accusing the revolutionary left of having condemned the proletarian movement to political deadlock and even holding it, in consequence, responsible for the failure to take power. Moreover, posing as the true representative of orthodoxy in contrast to the political manipulation and opportunism of … Lenin, Serrati would ingenuously claim that the Noskes and Scheidemanns had already been expelled from the party in 1912, and if there hadn’t been a revolution in Italy yet it wasn’t Turati’s, or Modigliani’s, fault. To say that it was, explained Serrati, was tantamount to giving in to «a belief in miracles and superficial prejudices». Only the Italian socialists were capable of being «the judges of the developing situation and deciding which steps needed to be taken to defend the Italian socialist movement». Serrati asked that a "relativist criterion" be applied to Italy, and addressing himself directly to Lenin he declared, «We ask nothing more, dear comrade. And if afterwards, having pardoned the Zinovievs who opposed the revolution, and the Cachins who proposed class collaboration and were international ambassadors of the great "democratic" war, you still condemn us – we, who have never hesitated for one moment to defend the proletarian revolution – we will be neither surprised nor will we complain. But we will continue our work» (Comunismo, 1 – 15 December 1920).
Serrati was feigning ignorance of the fact that the right wing of the PSI formed a homogeneous fraction, with a newspaper of its own, with its own steering committee, which was appearing at the party congress with a motion of its own, and that from the time of the Bologna congress onwards it had continuously sabotaged every initiative taken by the maximalist leadership!
If Serrati was to defend the so-called unity of the party nothing was left to him but the weapons of two bit polemics. Thus he would declare that the real opportunists were to be found inside the 3rd International; that the communist parties of France and Germany were full of ex-supporters of the war whilst the Italian reformists were immune from such defects. And he wasn’t averse to borrowing a few lies from the bourgeoisie in order to denigrate soviet Russia either.
Eventually it got to a stage where he was talking about, "Red masonry which operates outside and above the party". Only years later would poor old Serrati discover where this masonry ’which operates in silence and mystery’ was really to be found! And who knows why certain of Nenni’s letters still haven’t been released from the PSI archives!
Lurking behind this hymn to party unity, for whom it served as a convenient disguise, was the left wing of opportunism. Indeed the maximalists, in the name of unity, preferred to remain with 14,000 social-democrats rather than join the 58,000 communists and the Communist International! The problem lay elsewhere. The Maximalists couldn’t support communism since their programme was clearly opposed to the Communist International’s.
On December 20 1920, acting on behalf of the EC of the Communist International, Zinoviev sent a final letter to the Directorate of the PSI, and to Serrati in person. Zinoviev was clearly convinced that Serrati had started down the slippery slope to opportunist and centrist politics, «Making concessions to the reformists just to keep Serrati happy would ruin the party (…) Only the Italian Communist Fraction which met recently at Imola has posed the problem in a way which is clear and distinct. In Italy, those who want to march with the Communist International must support this fraction (…) Long live the Italian Communist Party purified of reformist and semi-reformist elements!»
At the Livorno congress, Turati put up a coherent defence of reformism showing how deeply rooted it was inside the PSI. A few days earlier, he had written that it wasn’t a case of conflicting tendencies in the socialist party anymore, but of conflicting ideas. And Serrati’s unitarian fraction didn’t present itself as a right communist tendency, but as the left wing of social democracy, which had become, in its turn, the left wing of the bourgeoisie.
In the December 23 issue of Avanti!, an article entitled, ’Towards the Communist Party’ affirmed that, «just as the bourgeoisie delegates its defence, at critical moments, to reformism, so reformism, when it is losing ground amongst the masses, is forced to delegate its counter-revolutionary function to thet centrism labelled ’right communism’ which we can see at work in all countries. The feeling you get nowadays at party assemblies and congresses is that it is actually the communists and the unitarians who are going to separate from each other once and for all; it is they for whom cohabiting has become impossible».
It is a view which was soon to be confirmed at the Livorno Congress.
(translated from Il Partito Comunista, no. 199 - to be continued)
(from Il Partito Comunista, no.205, 1992)
In our last article on the history of the working-class in Britain, we looked at the social and economic backdrop to the rise of Chartism, and the failure of utopianism as it merged into bourgeois mutual-aid with the ’land-plan’. We noted that the massive bid for power by the working class in 1842 suffered from the lack of a clear political programme, and the distinction of its aims from that of the middle-classes. We will now proceed to look at the last phase of Chartism, and show how such an organization and programme emerged out of the struggle for the working class to define itself and its aims, giving birth to an independent class view of the world – Scientific Communism and Dialectical Materialism.
To begin with, we will take up where we left off, and leave it to Engels to paint a picture of England in November 1847: «The commercial crisis to which England finds itself exposed at the moment is, indeed, more severe than any of the preceding crises. Neither in 1837 nor in 1842 was the depression as universal as at the present time. All the branches of England’s vast industry have been paralysed at the break of its development; everywhere there is stagnation, everywhere one sees nothing but workers thrown out onto the pavement. It goes without saying that such a state of affairs gives rise to extreme anxiety among the workers who, exploited by the industrialists during the period of commercial prosperity, now find themselves dismissed en masse and abandoned to their fate. Consequently meetings of discontented workers are rapidly increasing» (La réforme, Oct.23, 1847).
In the same paper, on November 22, he wrote about the elections that occurred in the summer of 1847, in the wake of the crisis in parliament that followed the victory of the free trade agitation: «The opening of the recently elected Parliament that counts among its members distinguished representatives of the peoples party, [O’Connor was actually elected, with Robert Owen and Harney standing as candidates: ed] could not but produce extraordinary excitement in the ranks of the democracy. Everywhere the local Chartist associations are being reorganized. The number of meetings increases and the most diverse ways and means of taking action are being proposed and discussed. The Chartist executive has just assumed leadership of this movement, outlining in an address to the British democrats the plan of campaign which the party will follow during the present session: [he then quotes] "In a few days, we are told, a meeting will be held which in the face of the people dares to call itself the assembly of the commons of England. In a few days this assembly, elected by only one class of society, will begin its iniquitous and odious work of strengthening the interests of this class, to the detriment of the people. The people must protest en masse at the very beginning against the exercise of the legislative functions usurped by this assembly"».
Engels comments further: «’The Fraternal Democrats, a society consisting of democrats from almost every nation in Europe, has also just joined, openly and unreservedly, in the agitation of the Chartists (...) the Fraternal Democrats have openly come out against any act of oppression, no matter who may attempt to commit it. Hence the democracy, both English and foreign, in so far as the latter are represented in London, have attached themselves to the Fraternal Democrats, declaring at the same time that they will not allow themselves to be exploited for the benefit of England’s free-trade manufacturers».
We shall have cause to look at the activities of this organization later, but we comment for now that this organization was part of a broader network of organizations forming under the influence of the massive exile from revolutionary Europe. This ’importation’ of revolutionary ideas was to play a major part in the ferment of the last Chartist mass mobilization, and well as determining the future course of the worker’s movement.
All that was needed was the news of the February revolution in France to really spark things off. Soon things were on the move again, «meetings and demonstrations were held all over the country. None of the halls in London were large enough to hold the masses who wished to attend the meetings. Crowds assembled in the open air on Clerkenwell Green, Kennington Common, and in Trafalgar Square etc., to hear the Chartist leaders and to adopt their proposals. Serious breaches of the peace occurred in the provinces: in Glasgow the unemployed marched through the streets shouting ’bread or revolution’; in Manchester crowds surrounded the workhouse and demanded the liberation of the inmates; in Bridgetown soldiers fired on the working-men and shot several of them» (Max Beer, History of British Socialism, Vol.2, National Labour Press, p.166). Another Chartist petition was planned and a convention in London, and it was decided that if the petition was rejected a National Assembly would be called – a virtual threat to take over power. Plans were laid for a massive demonstration on Kennington Common on April 10. The government meanwhile made counter-preparations. A contemporary account noted: «The public offices at the West End, at Somerset House, and in the city, were profusely furnished with arms; and such places as the Bank of England were packed with troops and artillery, and strengthened with sandbag parapets on their wall, and timber barricading of their windows, each pierced with loop-holes for the fire of defensive musketry. In addition to the regular and military force, it is credibly estimated that at least 120,000 special constables were sworn and organized throughout the metropolis, for the stationary defence of their own districts, or as movable bodies to co-operate with the soldiery and police» (Annual register, 1848). Among these special constables were featured, none other than special guest stars, the worker’s favourite double-act, Louis Napoleon and William Gladstone.
The convention met on April 3 comprising Harney, Jones and O’Brien amongst them and weapons were stored. The government then issued a proclamation declaring the convention an illegally constituted body.
The crowd that attended the ’monster’ demonstration was a lot smaller than anticipated, but this crowd, small though it was, was not allowed to cross the Thames to present the petition to Parliament. Finally it was presented, carried to parliament on a richly decorated wagon drawn by four horses, whilst behind them came on another wagon the committee of the National Charter Association. Instead of the five and half millions signatures claimed by O’Connor however, there were less than two million – including to the surprise of all, half a dozen by the Duke of Wellington and Queen Victoria.
The petition was inevitably rejected and the National Convention was reconvened as the National Assembly on May 1. This organization lasted for little more than a week, and was dissolved on May 13. However «The more determined Chartists went on with their preparations for rebellion. A National Guard was instituted as a result of a local Lancashire and Yorkshire Conference; three thousand were reported drilling at Wilsden under a black flag. At Bingley and Bradford there were strong detachments, the latter of which beat the police in a straight fight, killing one and wounding others, but retreated before the military. Similar events occurred at Ashton-under-Lyme and Liverpool; there is evidence of other armed Chartist forces at Leicester, Aberdeen and Glasgow (...) But the centre of the insurrection was London: Blackaby, the blacksmith who was Chartist chief in Croydon, arranged to hold as many police as possible by uproar in the suburbs, while M’Douall marched on Whit monday from Bishop Bonner’s Fields on to Whitehall. Blackaby carried out his part, but the secret was out and the exits from the Fields were heavily garrisoned. Rain fell without ceasing, and the Chartists were relieved to obey M’douall’s signal to go home (...) But they believed themselves to be 80,000 organized in London; they were in touch with the Irish revolutionaries, and were unwilling to go down without a fight. Cuffay, a mulatto appointed a Commissioner by the [Chartist] executive, took charge of the London area, and with six others (...) reorganized the revolt for August 15» (’the Common People’, Cole and Postgate, UP, p.324). Fireraisers were dispersed around London with sections dispersed to break up pavements for street barricades – tactics similar in many details to the recently successful revolution in France. The Chartists however had no opportunity to try their strength as the government was too well prepared; through an elaborate system of police spies they knew everything beforehand and the entire revolutionary executive was transported for life.
A reign of terror now swept over England from May to October in which ninety Chartist leaders were sentenced to varying terms of imprisonment. Jones, who we will meet later on, received the maximum term of two years, was deprived of pen and paper and put in solitary confinement.
Thus perished Chartism as a mass movement of the working class. The fact remained that the Chartist movement was still literally representing ’the masses of the people’ and this meant that its aims, and thus its tactics became confused. These we can represent as 1) the bourgeoisie against the landed interest and aristocratic privilege (the radicals); 2) the artisans against the modern factory system (hand-loom weavers etc.) and 3) the rising industrial working-class (the left chartists). Within this complex network of different interests the latter more often than not took the initiative, but always with the reactionary aims of the other classes adulterating and obscuring the working classes vision. But the vision was becoming clearer, and amidst the calls for a separation from the middle-classes, the workers were forging an ideology that would serve them in the future. The factor missing was a clear understanding of what this new class’s best interests really were – even the members of the Communist League were almost exclusively artisans – and not only had the modern working-class to emerge as a class with separate interests against all other classes, but that possibility had to arise through the development of the modern forces of production. Even in the most generous estimation: let us say that the combination of mass-mobilization and insurrectionary agencies was just right, there was something missing.
In fact, beside, within, and influenced by the lessons of Chartism,
the missing elements in the proletarian armoury were at that moment being
forged within the working-class movement: a view of the working-classes
condition that was to unlock the mysteries of bourgeois economy and the
source of exploitation – the extraction of surplus value from the worker.
From this would emerge the basis for a clear class programme and a class
party with a clear and consistent view to their attainment. A party that
would forge the forces of Blanquist insurrectionism and abstract democracy
into a coherent dialectical whole on a class basis. This process we will
now proceed to examine.
THE COMMUNIST LEAGUE
In the backward conditions of Germany in the 1840’s the curious situation arose that German skilled workers were numerically stronger outside Germany than within it, with 85,000 emigrant German workers in Paris alone, and other groups of comparable size in Brussels and London, whilst the small indigenous working class was concentrated among the cotton workers of the northern Rhineland. The political direction of the German working class thus assumed an international character from its inception, further pushed along this path by the prevailing police conditions in Germany. In such conditions arose from an earlier organization called ’the Outlaw League’ – ’the League of the Just’.
Of this organisation, Engels felt it safe to assert in his history of the Communist League, that it was "the first international workers movement of all time". This secret society had been formed by German émigrés in Paris in 1836 and was closely connected with Blanquis ’Société des Saisons’ and had suffered with it in the defeated insurrection of 1839. In 1840 the effective centre of gravity of this organization moved to London where the German Worker’s Educational Association was founded as a front for the League’s activities. Here, influenced by the mass organization of the Chartists (Engels introduced the Chartist leaders to the League), the English trade unions and Owenism, The League was to distance itself from the tactics of Blanquism and seek other methods to bring about the Communist goal.
Meanwhile, In Brussels, Marx started an organization called the ’Communist Correspondence Committee’, with the aim of, as described in a letter to Proudhon, «providing both a discussion of scientific questions and a critical appraisal of popular writings and socialist propaganda that can be conducted in Germany by these means. But the main aim of our correspondence will be to put German Socialists in touch with English and French socialists, to keep foreigners informed of the socialist movements that will develop in Germany and to inform the Germans in Germany of the progress of socialism in France and England. In this way differences of opinion will be brought to light and we shall obtain an exchange of ideas and impartial criticism».
In May 1846, the Communist Correspondence Committee in Brussels started making concerted efforts to influence the ’League of the Just’ as it had become apparent that out of all the multifarious left sects, this organization, both in terms of its numbers and its level of organization was the one to take most seriously. Marx was to write: «We published at the same time a series of pamphlets, partly printed, partly lithographed, in which we subjected to merciless criticism the mixture of French-English socialism or communism and German philosophy, which at the time constituted the secret doctrine of the League. We established in its place the scientific understanding of the economic structure of bourgeois society as the only tenable theoretical foundation. We also explained in popular form that our task was not the fulfilment of some utopian system but the conscious participation in the historical process of the social revolution that was taking place before our eyes».
At this time, Marx approached Julian Harney, a member of the League and left-wing Chartist to propose that he set up a communist correspondence bureau to liase with Brussels. Harney indicated that he felt Schapper, the effective leader of the League, would have to be consulted adding the latter was rather mistrustful of the ’literary characters’ in Brussels. But eventually a meeting was agreed to in July 1846 in which it was proposed to iron out differences. But already Marx and Engels were getting a bit fed-up with aspects of the League, with Engels entertaining the idea of working on Harney seperately from ’the Londoners’.
In November of that year, the League’s Central Committee moved to London, and with all the organizational reform which that implied, and with the Leagues now definite rejection of the utopianism of Cabet and Weitlng, it became open to ideas that would provide it with a sounder theoretical foundation.
Marx was now actively sought out and invited to join the League. Marx wrote later: «Whatever objections we had against this proposal were met by Moll’s statement that the Central Committee planned to call together a Congress of the League in London. There the critical position we had taken would be adopted in a public manifesto as the doctrine of the League. Antiquated and dissident views could only be counteracted by our personal collaboration, but this was only possible if we joined the League»(letter to ’Herr Vogt’, MEW xiv 439). Marx, Engels and several other members of the Brussels group now decided to join.
The promised conference materialised in June 1847, attended by Engels and Wilhelm Wolff at which the ’League of the Just’ was transformed into the Communist League. After the June congress Marx now turned the Brussels Correspondence Committee into a branch of the Communist League and set up a worker’s association along the lines of the League’s successful front organization in London. Here in Brussels he would work on the Deutsche-Brüsseller-Zeitung and within the ’Democratic Association for the Unification of All Countries’. In these organizations he strove for a unification with intellectuals and petty-bourgeois elements in the hope of welding an alliance of proletarians and the bourgeoisie against feudalism, in contradistiction to the utopian view that saw the workers taking power in Germany despite the fact the modern working-class and productive forces were virtually non-existent. At the 2nd Conference of the League on September 30th, according to Engels «Marx (...) defended the new theory during fairly lengthy debates. All opposition and doubt was at last overcome and the new principles were unanimously accepted» (’History of the League’ MEW XXI 215 f).
In the new rules it was now clearly stated «the aim of the League is the overthrow of the bourgeoisie, the rule of the proletariat, the abolition of the old, bourgeois society based on class antagonisms and the foundation of a new society without classes and without private property» (quoted by Engels,On the History of the Communist League,(MESW, p.440. L & W). At the end of the conference Marx and Engels were given the task of writing a manifesto to publicise the doctrines of the League.
Marx returned to Brussels and set about this task as well as lecturing to workers and involving himself in the Democratic Association, an organization which, in the words of Engels was "a sort of cartel of Brussels democrats". On March the 12th, Marx wrote to Engels in Paris to say «The Central Committee [of the Communist league] has been set up here because Jones, Harney, Schapper, Bauer and Moll are here». From this, we can deduce that the left-wing leadership of Chartism were now communists.
Whilst Marx continued to work in the Brussels Democratic Association, Harney and Jones continued however to work in the Fraternal Democrats, and it is to this latter organization that we will now turn.
The Fraternal Democrats as an organization was first proposed at a meeting in July 1845 as an international democratic association to liase between the English Chartists and continental refugees in England, of whom a significant proportion were political exiles and included members of the ’League of the Just’. But it was also – in terms of continuity of some of its personnel – the direct offshoot from the earlier London Democratic Association formed in 1837 by Harney. This in turn had split from the London Working Men’s Association – the organization that had first drawn up and started propagating the Charter – because of differences of opinion over the issue of ’physical force’. It was notable for attempting to provide the ’physical force’ party with an ideological basis, derived mainly though Babeuf’s disciple Buonnorotti, whose book, the ’Conspiracy of Equals’ O’Brien translated into English.
Marx was present at this meeting to discuss the formation of the Fraternal Democrats, out of which emerged the formal constitution of the organization in September of the same year. Schapper now stepped in, and asked William Lovett, the old campaigner who had drawn up the original Charter, to write an appeal to Chartists to join the Fraternal Democrats. Harney, Jones and Cooper now joined with Harney giving the organization access to the columns of the Northern Star. This organization celebrated the European struggles and appealed to the English people to support and imitate them. We quote from "The Principles and Rules of the Society of Fraternal Democrats": «This society composed of natives of Great Britain, France, Germany, Scandinavia, Poland, Italy, Switzerland, Hungary and other countries (...) agree to adopt the following DECLARATION OF PRINCIPLES: (...) we renounce, repudiate and condemn all political hereditary inequalities and distinctions of ’caste’; consequently we regard kings, aristocracies, and classes monopolising political privileges in virtue of their possession of property, as usurpers and violators of the principle of human brotherhood. Governments elected by and responsible to the entire people is our political creed (...) We condemn the "National" hatreds which have hitherto divided mankind, as both foolish and wicked; foolish, because no one can decide for himself the country he will be born in; and wicked, as proved by the feuds and bloody wars which have desolated the earth, in consequence of these national vanities».
One of the first activities of the Fraternal Democrats was a response to the Oregon boundary question in 1846. Julian Harney, counter-posed the American Government’s way of dealing with the question by way of a militia bill with the slogan ’no vote, no musket’, and hinting at revolutionary defeatism, he addressed the rulers who called upon the ’impoverished unrepresented masses’ to fight for ’their country’. He wrote in the Northern Star: «If you will monopolize all, fight for the country yourselves». Later, in response to the revolt of the Portuguese junta against Donna Maria that was put down with the help of Britain, France and Spain, he said at an Fraternal Democrats meeting that: «People were beginning to understand that foreign as well as domestic questions do affect them; that a blow struck at liberty on the Tagu is an injury to the friends of freedom on the Thames». Even more explicit was the line taken at the 2nd anniversary of the Polish Cracow rising: «Let the working men of Europe advance together and strike for their rights at one and the same time, and it will be seen that every tyrannical government and usurping class will have enough to do at home without attempting to assist other oppressors».
Marx and Engels maintained permanent contact with this organization through the Brussels Correspondence Committee and especially with the proletarian nucleus which would join the Communist league in 1847. However they would criticise immature aspects of its ideology. In a letter from Engels to Marx at this time, Engels mentions: «the other day I sent Harney a mild attack on the peacefulness of the Fraternal Democrats. Besides, I wrote to him to keep up the correspondence with you people» (Paris, approx. Oct.23, 1846). After the defeat of the Chartists in 1848 the activity of the society declined and it finally disintegrated in 1853.
It was mainly through this organization however that Marx and Engels first forged links with the Chartists, especially Ernest Jones and Harney, both of whom worked on the Chartist Northern Star. This was the main Chartist paper to which Engels would transfer his allegiance from the Owenite ’New Moral World’ in the light of the scientific Communism that he now adhered to. The first public statement of this view would appear to the English workers in the pages of the Northern Star on the 4 April 1846, entitled the ’State of Germany’.
To deal in depth with Marx’s tactics and movements in the German revolution of 1848 are beyond the scope of this article, but it worth stopping a moment to consider the effect this article would have had on a working-class that was, to say the least, unaccustomed to the dialectical, scientific way of viewing events that was yet being forged in the hard school of working class experience. For in this article it was recommended that the German workers subordinate itself to the bourgeoisie until the day that the bourgeoisie held full power, and that only then could the working class fight the bourgeoise in a thorough going bid for power.
We would still maintain that this tactic was correct in the context of a classical bourgeois revolution, though Marx and Engels were the first to admit that they were mistaken on certain tactical points. In fact, the conclusions they drew from their mistakes were to precisely define Scientific Communism once and for all against the other currents that existed in the Communist league. We now take up again developments within that organization.
Marx’s experience as an active revolutionary in Germany had caused him to draw new conclusions about the immediate likelihood of revolution: «There can be no question of a real revolution. Such a revolution is only possible at a time when two factors come into conflict: the modern productive forces and the bourgeois forms of production (...) A new revolution is only possible as a result of a new crisis; but it will come, just as surely as the crisis itself» (Review: May-October 1850, Below, p.303 n.47).
This view was counter-posed to that of the Willich-Schapper faction of the League, within the context of the debate on ’the position of the German proletariat in the coming revolution’ referred to in the Central Committee Meeting of September 15, 1850, from which the following quotes are drawn. (Revolutions of 1848, Pelican Press, ed: David Fernbach, p.339).
Schapper argued that the activities of communists only had meaning if the proletariat could come to power immediately, otherwise they might as well give up. Marx however now mentioned ’fifteen, twenty or fifty years’ of class struggle as the time scale involved, for ’the proletariat, if it should come to power, would not be able to implement proletarian measures immediately, but would have to implement petty-bourgeois ones’. Interestingly enough for those who have witnessed the workings of organic centralism as a communist form of organization in the 1970’s in Italy, he proposed the removal of the Central Committee to Cologne because ’the minority of the central committee is in open rebellion against the majority’.
Also he condemned the national chauvinism which had «replaced the universal conception of the Manifesto, flattering the national sentiments of German artisans», and the fact that «The will, rather than the actual conditions, was stressed as the chief factor of the revolution», furthermore he noted with disgust, there was «total anarchy in the league» noting that the word ’proletariat’ had been «reduced to a mere phrase, like the word ’people’ was by the democrats. To make this phrase a reality one would have to declare the entire petty bourgeoisie to be proletarians, i.e. de facto represent the petty bourgeoisie and not the proletariat». Marx suggested that both factions continue to work in the league and the party but within two separate sections, remarking however «we want to abolish the tension by abolishing all relations whatsoever» – perhaps displaying certain abiguity towards his own suggestion of remaining in the league with Schapper! Schapper was more definate saying «If you want to set up two districts, well and good. We’ll go alone and you’ll go alone. But then two leagues ought to be set up – one for those whose influence derives from their pens and the other for those who work in other ways. I don’t hold with the view that the bourgeoisie will come to power in Germany, and I am a fanatical enthusiast in this respect».
The Communist league did split, with Marx and the scientific communists finding a definitive basis on which to part company with the representatives of Blanquis militant utopianism (to which afterwards Willich and Schapper openly adhered), which placed emphasis on the will (and by implication the possibility of ’adapting’ it), the vanguard, and voluntarism, indeed in Schapper’s statement above, we can witness additionally that classic workerist attitude that has dogged all serious marxists, but we note also, by way of revenge, that in respect of the bourgeoisie attaining power in Germany... of course he was wrong – as no proletarian living there today will need pointing out!
Soon Schapper et all would end up hatching plots with petty bourgeois democrats that came to nothing. Marx meanwhile moved the Central Committee to Cologne where it continued to conduct propaganda work. In 1851, both groups were however ’busted’ by the police, and after the conviction of the accused at the Cologne Communist Trial of October 1852, Marx had the League formally wound up.
By now though, there had already been taken the first initiatives towards forming a Communist international, for in 1850 the Central Committee of the League founded together with the Blanquists and the left Chartists, a secret international organization, the «’World Society of Revolutionary Communists, based on the expectation of a revolutionary outbreak and pledging mutual support» (Fernbach, p.57). The first two articles of its constitution, signed by Adan and J.Vidil (blanquists), G. Julian Harney (Chartists), and Marx, Engels and August Willich (Communist league), specified: «1. The aim of the association is the overthrow of all privileged classes and their subjugation to the dictatorship of the proletariat, which will carry through the permanent revolution until the realization of communism, the ultimate form of organization of the human family. 2. Towards the realization of this goal the association will form a bond of solidarity between all tendencies of the revolutionary communist party, while, in accordance with the principle of republican brotherhood, it dispenses with all national restrictions» (Marx-Engels-Werke, Dietz Verlag, Berlin, 1956-64, pp.553-4).
We can see here very specifically represented the idea of a a loose alliance of "all tendencies of the revolutionary communist party" and a grafting on to it of the aims of bourgeois republicanism. Suffice to say that immediately after their departure from the Communist League, Marx, Engels and Harney wrote to the Blanquist leaders to say that they had «long considered the association as de facto dissolved» and requested a meeting to burn the founding agreement!
Regrettably, all the Internationals would be dogged by a "Socialist
federalism" of one sort or another and all would have their deaths sealed
by precisely such federalism, so it is interesting, right at the very birth
of the International workers movement to see alliances so categorically
rejected – note well, even when the numbers involved were tiny – for
even at this time, Marx had no truck with counting membership cards and
United Fronts! Later on, tactical alliances would be on the cards again
with the formation of the 1st International, which we examine in a later
article, but the absolute clear break from all forms of bourgeois politics
had been achieved in 1850 and things could never be quite the same again.
As a footnote we apend an extract from a letter from Marx to Engels on
April, 1856 to show that things are never quite so simple as the
seem. «I have had some more meetings with friend Schapper and have
found him a very repentant sinner. The retirement in which he has lived
for the last two years seems rather to have sharpened his mental powers.
You will understand that in case of certain contingencies it may be good
to have the man at hand, and still more out of Willich’s hands» (Selected
correspondance, Progress, p.85).
THE LAST DAYS OF CHARTISM
After the dissolution of the Communist League, and convinced that a thorough understanding of the workings of bourgeois economy were an indispensable weapon for the working class, Marx returned to the economic studies which would eventually bear fruit as ’Das Kapital’. Despite this monumental effort however, he continued to work with the left Chartists.
We will now proceed to trace Marx’s dealings with Julian Harney and Ernest Jones – the leaders of the Chartist left – within the decline of the Chartist movement.
Julian Harney after he was forced by O’Connor to resign from the Northern Star because of his espousal of republican causes, started his own paper, the Red Republican, in 1850. This was later renamed the Friend of the People, which in November published the first English translation of the Communist Manifesto "of citizen Charles Marx and Frederic Engels".
As already shown, Marx and Engels were to attempt a close collaboration with Harney, but it soon became apparent that the latter’s eclectic internationalism was poles apart from the, superficially similar, proletarian internationalism of Marx and Engels. This was particularly in evidence when he became involved in a banquet to fête the polish patriot Bem in February 1851, whilst in similar vein he threw open the pages of the Friends of the People to virtually any refugee group, all of whom could virtually guarantee their articles would be printed.
Marx would finally become totally estranged from Harney as the latter sided more and more with the Blanquists and Schapper against Marx’s own supporters. Soon Marx would have little good to say of Harney whom he would dub "citizen Hip Hip Hurray".
Sadly, by January 1852, the old Chartist chief O’Connor, "the Lion of Freedom" was to be seen early in the morning wandering around Covent Garden «a huge, white headed vacuous-eyed man, looking at the fruits and flowers, occasionally taking up a flower, smelling it, and putting it down with a smile of infantile satisfaction», whilst in the Commons «He threw the house into confusion, by accosting a large number of members, and shaking hands with everyone he met». Eventually he was put into Dr. Tukes asylum where he would die in 1855.
Almost sadder still was the fate of his newspaper, the Northern Star, which in 1842, due to its dwindling readership, was put up for sale. First it was sold off to its printers for a hundred pounds, whereupon it immediately became a journal of the middle-class reformers. Suddenly, this paper around which the forces of Chartism had rallied for fifteen years was printing articles in which it proclaimed that the word Chartist was "offensive to both sight and taste". Soon it was put up for sale again, with its two ex-editors Harney and Jones, both sacked by O’Connor – slugging it out between themselves, for the proprietorship of what was now in reality an empty shell. The insults and accusations of misappropriation of funds from both sides were to effect a split on the left of Chartism. Harney was successful in his bid for the paper which he promptly changed to the Star of Freedom, and then the Democratic Review. In a couple of years it was defunct. Meanwhile Jones changed the name of his journal Notes to the People to the Peoples Paper, this paper survived to 1858 and was to effectively replace the Northern Star as the mouthpiece of the working class movement in England.
«As Marx’s enthusiasm for Harney waned, so his relations with Ernest Jones, the other leader of the Chartist left, increased (...) Engels wrote to Marx on Jones’s death in 1869 that he had been "the only educated Englishman among the politicians who was, at bottom, completely on our side". In the early 1850’s, Jones, unlike Harney, emphasized the doctrines of class struggle, the incompatibility of interests between capital and labour, and the necessity of the conquest of power by the working class – views which his association with Marx did much to reinforce. Indeed Marx came to regard Jones as "the most talented of the representatives of Chartism" and approved of the tone of the "People’s Paper", this he contrasted favourably with Harney’s criticism of Chartism as "a class movement" which had not yet become "a general and national movement"» (Karl Marx: His Life and Thought, p.261, David McLellan, Paladin). Marx was to have certain bones of contention with Jones – notably his refusal to publish an English translation of the Eighteenth Brumaire, but he kept in close contact with him, attending his meetings and contributing to the People’s Paper on frequent occasions (though the number of printing errors made him reluctant to do so). Indeed it was in collaboration with Jones that Marx produced what he was later to say was his best work of criticism of the co-operative movement.
Apart from the Paper, Jones was to be involved in an important attempt to create an independent mass party of the working class, appropriately enough named "The Mass Movement". This organization was formed under the impetus of a strike wave in 1843, and aimed to unite both the trade-unions and the non-organized workers, primarily with the aim of co-ordinating strikes in different regions of the country. The organization was to be headed by a "Labour Parliament" which would be summoned periodically, composed of delegates elected by meetings of non-organized workers and unions. This body met, for the first and last time, between March 6-18, 1854.
Marx attached great importance to this move as it signified the attempt to lead the working class out from the restricting framework of craft unionism. However, despite his expectations, craft unionism would prevail with the majority of the trade-union delegates against both political struggle and a mass organization.
Jones would eventually be a great disappointment to Marx as he gradually went back on one proletarian position after another. This began with his retraction of his criticism of the Co-operative movement, going so far as to actively recommend people to start them by 1854. «In 1855, he [Marx] allowed Jones to persuade him to attend a committee meeting of the Chartist International Committee to prepare a banquet to celebrate the 1848 revolution. However "the idle chatter of the Frenchmen, the staring of the Germans and the gesticulations of the Spaniards" impressed him merely as pure farce. He was a supercilious and silent observer at the banquet smoking excessively to compensate» ’McLellan, op.cit p.261).
This meeting was nevertheless important in that it was part of wider moves to create a Worker’s International as a response to the Crimean War, and was under the auspices of the International Association which was formed from the remnants of the Fraternal Democrats in 1854. This attempted to regroup the left across Europe and brought into loose affiliation the Commune Révolutionaire, the German Workers Association, the Chartists, and the Polish Socialists. The leading English members were Ernest Jones and George Holyoake, the Co-operator.
Meanwhile, in 1854, the "official" Chartist Executive of the National Chartist Association would finally cease to exist. This was the inevitable result of an organization that had degenerated to being merely an elaborate talking shop at which endless bureaucratic reorganizations, restructurings, elections, conventions and meetings – and liberal doses of character assassinations and personal scandals – served merely to disguise that the organization was now merely an empty shell with no real connection with the masses on whose behalf it claimed to be deliberating. Soon Chartist organizations of every shape and size were popping up like mushrooms everywhere e.g., the National Reform League, the National Regeneration League, the People’s Charter Union, the Social Reform League etc., almost all with the exclusive intention of watering down the Charter with such measures as limiting the vote to householders etc.
At one such conference in 1848 – the last one to take the name "Chartist" – Jones was also eventually to form an alliance with the hated middle-class reformers of yesteryear. In the People’s Paper of February 13 we are informed of Jones’s new policy: «He considered that they should meet the middle classes halfway and take what was offered (...) he had opposed one-sided middle-class movements, but he would not oppose middle-class movements which were any benefit to the working class (...) he now called upon them to unite with the middle classes for universal manhood Suffrage. Mr. Jones sat down amid loud and continued applause».
Marx was to comment: «The business with Jones is very nasty. He has held a meeting here and spoken entirely along the lines of the new alliance. After this affair one is really almost driven to believe that the English proletarian movement in its old traditional Chartist form must perish completely before it can develop in a new, viable form. And yet one cannot foresee what this new form will look like. It seems to me moreover that Jones’ new move, together with the former more or less successful attempts at such an alliance, are indeed connected with the fact that the English proletariat is actually becoming more and more bourgeois, so that this most bourgeois of nations is apparently aiming ultimately at the possession of a bourgeois aristocracy and a bourgeois proletariat alongside the bourgeoisie» (Engels to Marx in London, Oct.7,1858).
This conference was really the last gasp of Chartism and was the definitive ushering in of the age of the famous English Labour Aristocracy. But one can also trace a direct path from Chartism’s demise through to the foundation of the First International six years later. All the forces that Jones had been attempting to unite – the Co-operators, the unions and the left – would be precisely those elements which would be involved in the International. In fact, many members of the International Association, which was to wind up in 1859, would join the 1st International.
The failures of Chartism had helped to define Marxism and left a valuable legacy to the working class movement by counterpoising the mass organization of the working class to the Blanquist notions of elitist conspiracies.
And there is another legacy: from the Chartist movement’s inception
to its final demise, there was one dilemma that was discussed and debated
over and over again at all the Chartist conferences and meetings everywhere.
A dilemma that shaped the movement at the most basic level. It was this:
should the working classes form an alliance with the middle-classes to
attain its aims... or should it resort to physical force.
In the summer there were reports in the press that various trade union leaders were unhappy with the policies of the Labour Government, especially considering that it was the Government leading the attack against the living standards of the working class. There were even suggestions that these same leaders, having nearly five million members in the public sector, might hold their own council meeting to discuss their relations to the Labour Party. Further, there was even talk from one of these unions, Unison, about adopting a "French" attitude towards public sector strikes, such as mini general strikes and organising demonstrations, etc. The meeting, proposed by Tony Woodley, the in-coming general secretary of the Transport & General Workers Union [TGWU], was to include all "concerned" union leaders, and not just the one’s labelled as the "awkward squad", as some of the left-leaning union leaders are called.
The first speech of Woodley to the TGWU was full of rhetoric about reclaiming the Labour Party from New Labour. The "values of working men and women, the values of socialism" should be reasserted. What he actually means by this is anyone’s guess. No doubt Woodley, to climb the union rungs, has been up to his neck in productivity deals and strike breaking. Should the unions be involved only in workplace matters and not in politics? Of course not, Woodley declares; the TGWU " has been involved in politics from its foundation and will always be so". Yes, and those politics have been right-wing and bourgeois to the core. The long history of the TGWU has been one of breaking strikes on the docks, and in other industries as well. The bosses have nothing to fear from the politics of the TGWU.
Such a council meeting was to discuss their relationship to the Labour Party, the level of funding not only to the Labour Party as an organisation, but also to individual MPs. It has become a bone of contention that some of the MPs who they fund don’t support the unions in the Parliamentary lobbies. In the end no such "council of war" took place. It was left to individual unions to pursue their own ways after the intervention of the Blair Government and the Trades Union Congress [TUC].
Unison’s leadership, after its talk about a more "French" attitude to strikes, were clear that non-labour MPs were not to be funded by the unions. The General Municipal & Boilermakers [GMB] were for reducing the number of MPs funded by a third, because these would not support union interests. This would include Peter Mandelson, the architect of New Labour. Aslef (train drivers union), at its Conference in June, had voted to support the re-election of Ken Livingstone as Mayor of London, against the official Labour candidate. Railway workers were later on in the year to find out what Livingstone’s attitude to the workers really is.
The Rail Maritime & Transport [RMT] union however took a decision to consider supporting non-Labour MPs, without formally ending its affiliation to the Labour Party.
The RMT has been working to establishing a separate parliamentary voice outside of the Labour Party. In Scotland it supports the Scottish Socialist Party, which has a block of Scottish MPs. In England it supports the Green Party, which is capable of arranging a voice in the European Parliament. In Wales it has been supporting its former MP for Wrexham, who had been under threat of de-selection – John Marek. Marek was off out of the Labour Party in a huff and stood for the Welsh Assembly as the John Marek Independent Party, with the support of the RMT. By absorbing assorted individuals, anarchists and Welsh socialist nationalists, finally the Forward Wales party has been formed, again with the support of RMT.
The new parliamentary strategy is the work of the leader of the RMT, Bob Crow. He is one of the few trade union leaders who is not a member of the Labour Party. Although the conflict with New Labour has hallmarks of a vendetta, the one bright spot is the conflict going on with John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister. Prescott was supported as an MP by the old Seamen’s union, which was amalgamated with the Railwaymen’s union to form the RMT. Since then that has been much friction between the RMT and Prescott, with the latter reported to have ripped up his union card, because of the attitude of the former to the Labour Government.
Prescott, as an MP of the Seaman’s union, was given the use of a "grace
and favour" apartment in London for his own use. Now it is the property
of the RMT, and the RMT want him out. There is a series of court actions
going on to evict him. Prescott, who has two other residences, wants to
keep hold of it and has offered to buy the apartment. The RMT insists it
wants him out, so it can redevelop the whole building.
Preparing for the 2003 Trades Union Congress
The new general Secretary of the TUC, Brendan Barker, had taken up his post a few months earlier. The "Demon Barber" had made his, and the TUC’s, attitude to the class struggle quite clear. In his first public speech as leader of the TUC was at (London) City University where he declared that the voting power of pension funds and insurance companies should be used to influence the decisions of big companies. "Almost half of the shares in UK companies are held by institutional investors – our pension funds and insurance companies. It is time we made the connection and started influencing the way that investment power is put to use".
Democracy for the shareholders! – but just let the workers on the shop floor try and vote for immediate strike action, then the workers will find out that democracy is only for the bosses.
Barber went on further: "We’re not interested in casino capitalism; we want sustainable prosperity. Perhaps our job is now to save capitalism from the capitalists (…) If we want good pensions we want the companies in which our pension funds are invested to do well". Of course the logic is that the TUC must continue to assist the capitalists in ensuring the exploitation of the workers, so that sufficient profits are extracted to keep the whole system going.
Just prior to the TUC’s annual congress in September at Brighton a report was published called A Perfect Union. Trade Union membership had been about 12 million in the 1970s and had been almost halved by the mid-1990s, but had stabilised to 6.6 million. There was scope for expansion if the trade unions could tap into the need for representation at work. The stalinist Morning Star gave a glowing report and an interview with Barber. The "Demon Barber" stated: "In other words, unions must be credible partners working constructively with employers, but having enough power in the work-place to make a real difference to employer decisions".
Having placated the bosses the "Demon Barber" went around to 10 Downing Street to talk about union involvement in Government decisions. The idea was proposed for a special public services forum in which senior union officials would have an input into government policies. Blair gave this idea a "positive response" and a Government Minister, it was said, would then chair this forum.
This forum being restricted to the input of the unions disturbed the
employers’ Confederation of British Industries [CBI]. The CBI insisted
that businesses should also have an equal opportunity to have a say; what
about the voluntary sector (charities), what about the consumers? In other
words they will all want to get in on the act, vie for the leading roles,
Discontent contained at the TUC
Blairs’ Government and the TUC staff, ably assisted by the CBI ensured that any opposition at the TUC was confronted.
For many years a certain amount of discontent has been allowed at TUC sessions. Votes against anti-strike laws were passed again this year. The Government plans for Trust hospitals were condemned. Fears were expressed that if the Government didn’t listen they may lose the next election! The Government felt under pressure and strike action was in the air: so any discontent anywhere had to be attacked, even in the TUC sessions.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, was brought in to explain government plans for public service reform and wage restraint (only for the workers, of course). "Brother Brown" (he is still a member of the TGWU, along with Tony Blair) was there as "the acceptable face" of government policy. He waxed lyrically about equal pay and on learning and skills. Not very impressive, but he was there to soften the Congress up for the debate later, on industry. This brought forth the Government Minister for Industry, Patricia Hewitt, and the Head of the CBI, Digby Jones, to regale union leaders upon the necessity of keeping the economy efficient.
This double act was to prepare for a "private" dinner that same evening for union delegates at which Tony Blair gave a speech. The press were in the meantime given a Government briefing about a tough speech, decrying Left wing policies as an illusion, and that Labour was travelling down the only conceivable path. After the dinner the press asked union leaders about Blair’s speech as outlined in the press briefing – they weren’t too sure whether it was the speech they had just listened too. Surrealism apparently isn’t just confined to the arts.
The international debate was there to give union leaders the opportunity to voice criticism of the Government, without doing too much damage. There were calls for Blair to resign as Prime Minister (it won’t make any difference as Blair had already arranged his multi-million pound retirement pension arrangements), but this was far from the big revolt as featured in the media. Those who voiced calls for Blair to resign were Woodley of the TGWU, Crow of RMT and Mick Rix, the out-going general secretary of Aslef. Rix’s five year term as general secretary of Alsef was coming to an end, so he had to put up for election again. Rix stood down from the Executive of the TUC, and was replaced by Crow of the RMT. Rix failed to be elected again, with less than half of the 15,500 members of Aslef bothering to vote.
The real political test is not just that of an attitude against war,
and other international issues, but over the class struggle itself. Here
we find that the so-called "awkward squad" is unable to defend the workers,
not even at a very basic level.
A Late Autumn Strike Wave
During October and November industrial discontent arose on the issue of pay rises in many industries, most notably those of the postal system, railways and fire brigades, spilling over into other sectors of the public services.
We have already dealt with what has been happening in the postal system, and the plans for restructuring of Royal Mail in our previous issue [CL18]. The programme of the eliminating of 30,000 jobs, out of about 220,000, was about half way through in June of this year.
There are two main trades unions in the postal service, the Communication Workers Union [CWU] and the communication workers section of Amicus, which represent clerical and higher grades. The national secretary of the communication workers section of Amicus, Peter Skite, is reported in The Times in June as saying that he was reasonably happy about the way the three-year restructuring plan is going. "This is the most difficult year and they need agreement on the single delivery, the transport review and automation which are crucial for the future of the business", Skite said. Then the members of his union aren’t the main one’s in the firing line.
The management of Royal Mail made an offer of 14.5% over an 18-month period if the whole package was accepted, which really means 4.5% plus an extra 10% when all the cost-cutting targets have been met (including the 30,000 redundancies). The CWU responded saying that it had more strings [conditions] "attached to it than the Philharmonic Orchestra". Royal mail then preferred to ignore the CWU and sent letters directly to all the postal workers outlining what the terms of the offer was. The very small increase (£100 per year) in the London location weighting, because of the increased costs of living in the area.
That issue (London weighting) was enough to nearly cause a walk out in London on 1st August, but that was only stopped when Royal Mail threatened to hold the CWU responsible for any wild-cat strikes, if they heard about them first and did nothing about stopping them. The CWU then threw in its weight against the offer at the ballot of the 200,000 postal workers involved. It used the issue of London weighting as a separate ballot issue in the hope of obtaining a majority in favour of a strike. They also indicated that a vote for a strike would force management to back down – oh yes?
Royal Mail were already countering the CWU’s bluff by saying that any vote for a strike would mean the workers would still be out at Christmas. There had been previously media releases on how Royal Mail had been training managers, and temporary staff, to keep the postal system going during a national strike.
In the past postal workers had voted for strike action in ballots, but often a strike had not been called. The national vote went against a strike, by a majority of only 2,000. This time the fight would have to be on the workers terms, not on any deal stitched up by the CWU leadership.
There have been many reasons given for the lack of votes against the wage offer. Forty per cent of the workers didn’t vote. In London 15,000 voted, and the majority for the strike action over London weighting was 5:2.
Certainly the areas outside London had been targeted for threats of closure, and intimidation had been rife. Royal Mail had also made it clear that if the vote went against the offer then management would get tough – they would all be out anyway.
But significantly many of the workers must have had a poor opinion of the leadership of the CWU, even though the leader and deputy-leader, respectively Bill Hayes and Dave Ward, are part of the so-called "awkward squad". In fact Dave Ward, a former London regional official, had sought higher office on the basis of a "better deal for London". They may talk about New Labour being in cahoots with Royal Mail as much as they like. A little bit of a mushy opposition to Blair is not going to blunt the attacks to come.
Many postal workers would remember the last national strike in 1996
against the then Tory Government. The leader of the union then was Alan
Johnson: he is now a Labour Education Minister, in the same Government
organising the attacks. That is one of the prices paid for affiliation
to the Labour Party!
The Response of the Postal Workers
Initial protests and industrial action over claims for overtime, at Oxford, and London weighting in the middle of October led to Royal Mail attempting to change local conditions as a term of returning to work. The continuous pressure on the workers led a fortnight later to a spreading series of unofficial strikes, which would have soon become national in its scope. Dave Ward, of the CWU, denied the union was behind the strike – it was the management’s entire fault!
The dispute appears to have begun first at Greenford, West London, leading to five London sorting offices being out, followed by sorting centres in Oxford, Peterborough and Glasgow. Oxford (at Cowley and Headington) was particularly militant. A day later (October 29th) two thirds of London’s 28,000 postal workers were out on strike, being followed by sorting centres in Essex and Kent. By November 2nd the strikes had spread to Portsmouth and Swindon. Much of the spread of the strike had been because Royal Mail’s management had been moving strike affected unsorted mail to other areas, which led to those workers walking out as well. Even though post-boxes had been sealed in London, and Londoners asked not to post mail "for the moment", the backlog of unsorted mail was growing.
The Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott (the mouth), waded into the dispute by threatening Government intervention. The Government had intervened in the Firemen’s strike, and they would do it here if necessary. "We are not party to the negotiations, but this is about modernisation" Prescott said.
The management of Royal Mail then accused the CWU leadership of being behind the strikes. Royal Mail was suspicious about a meeting held at Kings Cross a fortnight previously, and it was here that the strike wave was "plotted". The response of CWU’s London officials was that they met to discuss two days of action, one in November and the other in December. These would have been official strikes. Norman Candy, one of the two senior London representatives of the CWU stated that they would not have gone to sorting centres to urge unofficial strikes, as this would invalidated the strike ballot over the London weighting issue. The CWU had put in much time and resources for the official strikes, so why should they undermine it with provoking unofficial strikes.
Royal Mail accepted these assurances, and even issued a letter saying that the CWU hadn’t been behind these unofficial walkouts after all. So then who was responsible? Finding it as inappropriate to consider their own provocative actions were responsible, Royal Mail’s bosses then thought it down to troublemakers on the shop floor. For the strikes to have spread as far away as Bristol, Stoke and Warrington from London, then there must be a network of agitators at work. Managers, and assorted private investigators, were stalking picket lines and following individual strikers around. Photographs were being taken and video recordings were being made, in order to try to identify the supposed malcontents. This only further inflamed the strike movement.
Banks, credit card companies and government agencies were announcing relaxing deadlines because of the postal strike. It was business delayed for financial organisations, and they would wait patiently for the outcome of the strike. Bellyaching noises were made about the problems of small businesses and Royal Mail ignored these. When big companies, large users of the postal system, announced they would be switching to other postal service suppliers, then Royal Mail involved themselves in "meaningful" discussions with the CWU. Within hours the strike was over, and negotiations for a settlement were agreed.
Subsequently the planned strike before Christmas was called off by the
CWU. Further announcements were made about a settlement having been reached
between Royal Mail and the CWU, and that this would be the subject of a
ballot of postal workers in the New Year.
Other Workers in Dispute
Running parallel to the postal workers strike had been wage claims by Unison for its own campaign over London weighting. It comes as no surprise that no linkage was made between the CWU and Unison over identical claims. Unison was pursuing a London weighting claim of £4,000 per year for London council workers, many of which are support workers in schools, librarians and caretakers in other municipal buildings.
About a day after the postal workers returned the Firemen were out in dispute, because the deal imposed upon them earlier in the year was to be further phased in. More than half of the country was affected by demonstrations, picket lines and refusals to handle any call out other than an emergency call. Andy Gilchrist, leader of the Fire Brigades Union, hurried in for further talks about phasing in of amendments to the Government-imposed deal. A consultative ballot on strike action was proposed, which if successful would lead to a further ballot before a strike could be called. The demand for a recall conference was resisted, as this would have given some power to the Firemen themselves, rather than the union officials. The authority of a strike call from such a recalled conference would have been difficult to ignore.
Baggage handlers at Heathrow and Liverpool airports had been involved in pay disputes leading to strikes and other forms of disruption.
There were disputes on the London Underground because of fears over safety following a derailment at Camden in mid-October, in which seven passengers were injured. Go slow actions were planned for December. In mid-November a tube driver was dismissed because he had been off sick one day in five over his working career. Having been off with a sprained ankle, he was reportedly seen leaving a squash court, having been involved in "therapeutic" exercise intended to aid recovery. The dismissal of Chris Barrett led to an immediate walkout affecting part of the London Underground network.
The RMT threatened further strikes unless he was reinstated. Ken Livingstone, Mayor of London, shed his worker-friendly image, and declared that it was right for Barratt to have been dismissed. Livingstone has been discussing his return to the Labour Party with the Blair leadership. Livingstone will fit nicely once again back in the Labour Party, with all the other strike breakers, and anti-working class elements.
The threatened strikes have been further delayed now until the New Year. RMT is involved in talks with ACAS, the Government funded conciliation service. Nothing will come out of this. The lesson in this case, as his fellow workers showed, was to go out and stay out until at least the dismissal was reversed.
The Public and Commercial Services Union is unhappy about a government imposed 2.6% pay rise for government employees in the Department for Works and Pension, the body responsible for welfare payments and benefits. Almost 90,000 civil servants are affected by this imposition. There were walkouts of staff in Glasgow, and industrial action in Basildon, Essex.
The last few months has shown that the working class has not lost its fighting spirit, nor has the class struggle been cast into "the dust bin of history" as the CBI would claim.
It is the further developments of the crisis of capitalism, with the never-ending attacks upon the living standards of the working class, which is what the class struggle is all about.
Only by the workers unifying at the base of unions, by extending links, by creating real solidarity between workers in struggle can the fight back against the bosses be pursued. And to do that means ignoring the present leaders of the unions, even those who claim to be disgruntled with capitalism, and are part of a so-called "awkward squad".
When it was happening, not many workers heard much about the Southern California grocery strike of 2003-2004, the largest grocery strike in US history thus far. Fewer still remember it even now. And that’s because the AFL-CIO, together with the bosses’ media, collaborated in obscuring this event. They buried it, like so many events are buried, in the constant suppression of our class memory. It is the duty of the International Communist Party to constantly exhume such events, not to dwell morbidly on the bitter defeats of the past, but to draw their balance sheet and delineate the necessary steps towards bringing new life to the class struggle. To the grocery workers in California who struggled so courageously and received nothing in return, to grocery workers throughout the rest of the US who were never informed of this crucial struggle, and finally to proletarians in every trade, everywhere, this work is dedicated.
The four-month old strike of the grocery workers in Southern California ended predictably in a defeat. Of course, the UFCW (United Food and Commercial Workers union) declared victory when, on February 26th, the new contract was ratified with the Safeway, Kroger, and Albertson’s companies. The terms of the contract, as the union bureaucrats eagerly point out, are not quite as harsh as the contract originally proposed by the companies – but the difference is miniscule, and they are a further erosion of the precarious living conditions of the grocery workers, who were already struggling before the strike began. Nevertheless, then UFCW President Doug Dority declared this to be "one of the most successful strikes in history." If this heroic labor leader (whose salary is over $300,000) is to be believed, then the history of strikes must indeed be a depressing one. Certainly, though, the UFCW’s own history is not exactly inspiring.
The UFCW international union, organizing both US and Canadian workers, was founded in 1979 but did not take long to show which side of the class battle lines it stood on. A well-known event involving the UFCW was the Hormel strike of 1985. The 1980’s had generally been a year of increasing privations for workers. At the Hormel food plant in Austin, Minnesota, dangerous working conditions, wage cuts, and reductions in health care premiums compelled the workers of UFCW Local P-9 to strike.
The international union had sought to isolate P-9 even before the strike began, condemning its decision to break ranks from the other UFCW locals who were caving in to Hormel’s demands. The UFCW bureaucracy officially sanctioned P-9’s strike, but refused any extension of the picket lines, and rejected boycotts, lifting not a finger when Hormel compensated for the strike by shifting production to other plants where UFCW members worked. Strikers were given a mere $65 per week strike benefit, and this would be cut to $40 all too soon.
It’s also worth noting that the so-called Communist Party, USA, in one of the few instances where they held any influence over events, called on UFCW workers in other areas not to support the P-9 strike, claiming that the P-9 Local was breaking "solidarity" by striking while the rest of the union was prostrating itself before the bosses.
However, the P-9 strikers were able to organize significant support from the working class community, despite the opposition of churches, schools, and the press. They erected their own support committees, conducted outreach to other factories nation-wide, fought back scabs, waged secondary boycotts, and conducted their strike independently of the UFCW leadership. When the UFCW president insisted that P-9 accept a "new" proposal by Hormel, which was essentially the same as the proposed contract that incited the strike, P-9’s militant workers refused.
However, the valiance and militancy of the P-9 workers could only take them so far when they were isolated by their own union. There certainly was support among the rank and file, scattered throughout the union, but there was not enough organized support to give the badly needed oxygen to the strike by extending it to other plants. In 1986, Hormel began hiring scabs who were eventually escorted into the plant by the National Guard, as ordered by the supposedly labor-friendly Democratic governor of Minnesota. The strike was thus dragooned into submission. A few strikers gave in and worked alongside the scabs. Many others were fired, forced to retire, or placed on a recall list, hoping they would soon get their jobs back. The militant organizers of the strike were not only excluded from the Hormel plants, but also from the mainstream "labor movement", which blamed them for the defeat because they dared to do what a workers’ union is supposed to do – fight the bosses.
The 1985 Hormel strike presents perhaps the most notorious union betrayal in US history, and also an important example of workers beginning to organize a class structure that is capable of combating both the bosses and the union bureaucrats who serve them. Of course, the UFCW has betrayed its workers in ways big and small many times since then, but the Hormel strike is the most dramatic example. It is well-known and often discussed, and it has contributed to a cynicism among many UFCW members regarding their leadership. Even members not familiar with the Hormel strike events often are vaguely mistrustful of their union; it is not their union, but the union, which they join so that they can work in a certain place, but which does little else for them aside from collect dues which provide the six-figure salaries of the UFCW leadership. A term frequently employed by American workers to describe the UFCW, and unions like it, is "business union," because they are run like corporations and are ever eager to cater to corporate interests. Such a term is not far off from our own phrasing – "regime union".
Under the UFCW, the retail industry passed from one where most workers held full-time jobs to an industry largely based on part-time work.
The recent strike defeat in Southern California is therefore emblematic of the general trend of the UFCW. As with the Hormel strike, wages and health care benefits were key issues here.
The grocery corporations – Safeway, Albertson’s, and Kroger’s – offered a joint proposal to their workers in October 2003, which significantly slashed the already meager benefits afforded them by the previous contract. At that time, the average grocery worker at these chains received $12.50 an hour and worked around 30 hours a week. Many workers received much less than that. The baggers generally made $6.75 per hour, a starvation wage that is usually insufficient to maintain minimal living standards. The new proposal would strain these already tenuous conditions.
To begin with, the proposal included a "two-tier" system. While it eroded the living standards of current workers, new employees would face a new plan that was even worse. New hires would never make more than $14.90 per hour (assuming they worked long enough for their wages to be increased to this point), and their pensions would be significantly lowered. Furthermore, all workers would be required to contribute $1,300 each year for health costs, with a limit imposed on the number of hospital stays and treatments they could undergo. This was enough to deprive many grocery workers of their ability to sustain even basic needs, such as paying the rent for a modest apartment or feeding a family.
The proposed contract was clearly unacceptable. When the UFCW called the vote, 70,000 workers voted overwhelmingly to reject the contract, and begin a strike on October 11.
The UFCW’s handling of the strike began with a false step. In their October 10 press release, the UFCW declared that, "Workers have also announced that they will only target one supermarket chain in order to avoid inconveniencing their customers." Therefore, the plan was for the strike to be at only those stores owned by Safeway (Pavilions and Vons) while workers at Kroger’s and Albertson’s owned stores were expected to plead with their bosses not to lock them out.
Above all else, the UFCW leaders were intent on portraying themselves as business partners who wanted commerce to continue, and if these greedy corporate executives could only contain their appetite for wealth a little bit, the beautiful partnership between employer and employee could continue and take this great nation to the future. A key argument by the UFCW was that the chains were making soaring profits – why couldn’t they afford then to subsidize their employees’ health care? Such an argument put the UFCW clearly on the terrain of class collaboration – the strike was a question of sharing profits and not of defending the needs of workers, which persist no matter how the economy fluctuates. Of course, while the regime unions, the business unions, will always be class-collaborationist, the bosses will freely sever their "partnership" with workers when it suits them. And so workers at the Albertson’s and Kroger’s chains were locked out. Over 70,000 grocery workers were therefore effectively on strike, making this the largest grocery strike in US history.
Another mistake by the UFCW (and we use the term "mistake" here loosely, for such concessions are so frequent they must be deliberate) was the failure to establish effective picket lines. The entire strike depended on the hope that customers could be convinced not to cross the picket lines, the notion that an amorphous "community" would support the strike. No attempt was made therefore to actually shut the stores down. Worst of all, nothing was done to keep scabs out, who came from near and far, some of whom were hired for $19 an hour. It is true that many would-be customers refused to shop at the stores; some of them even brought food to the strikers and organized support for them in other ways. However, the stores continued to run with scab labor, and some customers, for whatever their reasons, would cross the picket lines. This would continue to be the case until the end of the strike, despite protests from the workers to union representatives.
On October 13th, a UFCW strike began against Kroger’s by workers in West Virginia, Kentucky, and Ohio. Instead of coordinating this strike in a national strategy with the struggle in California, the UFCW negotiated it separately and the strike would be resolved in December, with essentially the same contract that had precipitated the strike.
Back in Southern California, the UFCW’s impotence was further unveiled on October 31st, when pickets were withdrawn from the Kroger-owned Ralph’s stores, which were still being run with scab labor. The official reasoning of the union leadership was two-fold-first, that, by removing picket lines from the Ralph’s stores, business would be diverted from the other stores and therefore more pressure would fall on Albertson’s and Safeway. In fact, the three corporations declared that they were pooling their profits, making an already questionable tactic completely useless. The second rationale was, as the UFCW’s official statement declared, "We’ve taken down our picket lines at Ralphs for our customers’ convenience." What this really means is the bosses’ convenience – the union (a business partner, remember?) wants business to resume as soon as possible, but at the same time appear to be representing workers, so it makes a "good faith" gesture to squeeze some minor concessions from the bosses and bring the strike to a swift and painless end (painless for capital, that is).
The three grocery chains weren’t impressed and no concessions were given. Picket lines would eventually resume at some Ralph’s stores in mid-January but by then it didn’t matter.
Workers in LA and throughout the Southern California area were overwhelmingly sympathetic to the grocery strike, and through the unions of their various professions they organized support of varying degrees, such as donations to the strike fund. When, on November 24th, the UFCW finally extended the strike to ten local distribution centers for the supermarkets, 7,000 distribution workers, members of the Teamsters union, honored the picket lines and refused to load goods or drive them to stores. Scabs accomplished these tasks instead, and, because neither the UFCW nor the Teamsters did anything to stop scabs, the solidarity effort hurt the companies but was not nearly as effective as it could have been.
Still, the solidarity effort seemed a welcome morale booster for the grocery workers. Much bombastic talk was made by union leaders, who described a "rebirth of labor solidarity," and resurrected traditional labor slogans such as "an injury to one is an injury to all." Jim Santangelo, president of Teamsters Joint Council 42 in El Monte, described the Teamster solidarity as a "silver bullet" that would swiftly end the strike. However, in mid-December the UFCW moved to end its picket lines at the distribution centers. The reasons for this move are unclear (officially, yet another "good faith" effort for negotiations), though it is speculated that the Teamster leadership was not willing to persist in supporting a strike that was lasting longer than expected, even if by all indications the Teamster rank-and-file were enthusiastic supporters of the strike – they knew well that they themselves may soon have to fight a similar battle.
Seven of the pickets at the distribution centers complied with the UFCW’s command, but in a bright spot of militancy the workers picketing at the Safeway-owned Vons distribution centers refused to take down their pickets, even when union representatives were sent in to persuade them otherwise. These workers sensibly contended that pickets shouldn’t have been taken down anywhere, that the strike should grow, not shrink. The UFCW, to avoid embarrassment perhaps, then modified their original order and said that picket lines would continue at the Vons distribution centers but not those owned by Kroger or Albertsons. We salute the courage of those workers who refused to take down their pickets. Unfortunately, their efforts were marginalized, and the aims of the union were still accomplished – a severe downgrading of the strike’s efficacy, a further gift to the bosses.
Around Christmas time, the grocery workers received a present of their own – strike pay was cut from $240 to $100 a week. At this point, many workers were already facing severe hardships. Some had been forced to sell their cars, while others were evicted and then forced to sleep in their cars. At the same time, top union officials continued to pull in six-figure salaries.
With the low morale of the rank and file following the defeatist tactics of the UFCW leadership, in January AFL-CIO representatives decided that the time had come to directly involve themselves in the labor dispute that was affecting tens of thousands of Southern Californian grocery workers. Their aim however was not to further energize the strike and ultimately win the battle, but to delude the workers into believing that the AFL-CIO, the national federation of regime unions, was actually interested in or capable of winning the class battle, and thus, to save face for the union which was in the process of selling its rank and file down the river. The national labor federation’s secretary-treasurer, Trumka (a known traitor, as shown by his conduct during the miners’ struggles in the 1980’s and the longshoremen lockout of 2002), would explain: "We have our work cut out for us, but I predict that three months from now, there will be a whole different attitude out there." This prophetic statement would have an undeniable truth later on, however, not the truth implied by this bourgeois agent.
If workers at first believed that the national AFL-CIO intervention in the strike was to expand its scope, militancy, and effectiveness, these hopes were quickly smashed as the realities of the AFL-CIO "tactics" were exposed for what they really were, feeble public relation stunts meant to bring the strike to a crushing end. The AFL-CIO hoped that such an outcome would be tolerated by the demoralized workers, while maintaining their loyalty to the union which betrayed them.
The AFL-CIO did not even reach its timid goals of informing the public about the strike. In fact, union representatives made no serious effort at informing UFCW members outside of California about the struggle. The bourgeois media, meanwhile, when it wasn’t peddling lies about the strike, was concentrating on more important things such as the latest celebrity scandals. As a result, few grocery workers outside of California, UFCW members or not, even heard about the strike. Southern California workers themselves were struggling to keep informed about the strike that they were directly engaged in. The average union meeting consisted of a representative coming in, issuing a few directives, and doing little or nothing to explain them. Discussion on tactics by the rank-and-file was never placed on the agenda.
By the middle of February, even the bourgeois media, which had been spreading predictions of gloom and doom, of "violence", with the intervention of the AFL-CIO, had to recant and proclaim the AFL-CIO involvement as completely harmless. The "pray-ins" and "letter writing campaigns" in front of, and to, certain corporate grocery executives were completely ineffective, amounting to nothing more than moralistic hand wringing and humiliating groveling at the feet of the bosses. No doubt, because of their ineffective nature, such strategies were picked as the tactic of choice by the AFL-CIO "veteran" leadership. It was this last humiliating betrayal by the AFL-CIO which led to a condition where the workers were finally too exhausted, psychologically and physically, to carry on.
In the last week of February, the UFCW leadership capitulated to the demands of the grocery cartel and reneged on almost every worker demand. The workers, after five months of striking, after the intense hardships, were told to accept a contract which was almost identical to the original offered to them in October by the bosses. Utterly demoralized, they grudgingly voted to accept the contract. The UFCW and AFL-CIO goal of forcing these proud proletarians into an acceptance of defeat had been successful.
In the midst of this bitter conclusion, now former UFCW president Dority declared the strike a victory, and proclaimed: "Now is the time for action. 2004 is the year to put health care reform on the political agenda and demand that every candidate for office commits to comprehensive, affordable health insurance for every working family." In fact, it was no secret that the UFCW and AFL-CIO were using the strike to hitch workers to the Democratic Party’s electoral campaign, full of promises as it is to restore the decaying US welfare system. Days before the strike’s defeat, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry was allowed to speak at a UFCW picket in Santa Monica, and the union leaders accorded him their blessing. This struggle, in which workers lost their homes, their health care, and were forced to the edge of survival, is to the union leaders little more than another tool for gathering proletarians under the flag of the capitalist regime that oppresses them. This government will tread the same course no matter how the cards are shuffled, because the name of this electoral card game is "Bullshit" and the deck is rigged against the working class.
The actions of the UFCW and AFL-CIO can only reinforce our analysis of the current trade unions, that of their regime nature and bourgeois utility. The defeat of the grocery strike does not present us with any surprises or new discoveries. But in these dark times, the class struggle must undergo a steep learning curve, and we communists patiently draw the old lessons out with each successive defeat.
It might be reasonably asked, if these regime unions are just tools for the bosses, why would they sanction a strike in the first place? In 1992, we said, in "The Party and the Trade Unions": "We also predict that, when faced with strong pressure from the workers, these unions will discover the necessity of appearing to back large-scale struggles and even lead them on occasions when they have been unable to restrain, isolate, or repress their most combative elements. The regime union in these cases can carry out its function by placing itself at the head of the movement and voicing some of its demands, but only so as to be able to try and control it, circumscribe it, deflect it and bring about its defeat. The alternative – of abandoning the struggle to its own devices – could result in dire consequences for the regime." If the UFCW had not put itself at the head of the grocery strike, they may very well have faced a massive wildcat strike. It would be better for them to sabotage the proletarian struggle from within – in fact, that is the essence of the regime union’s nature.
To call the regime unions traitorous however is not quite enough – doubtless, there are many among the union bureaucrats who genuinely believe they are defending workers’ interests. What guarantees that these unions will let their members down again and again is the fact that they are class-collaborationist and nationalist – their approach is one that expects that workers and bourgeois can prosper together under a national aegis – and that they are firmly entrenched in the capitalist regime, through politicians, through government institutions, and through the cozy relationship between their officials and the ruling class. Living conditions for workers are marginally improved by these unions only when it is convenient for the bourgeoisie. Their ideas of the aims of a union and of strikes are therefore quite different from anything relating to class struggle.
Is a strike a thing to be submitted to "the public," to be approved by a "community" that knows no class boundaries? No – the strike is a weapon of class struggle, and at the heart of class struggle are force relations. The bourgeoisie, commanding unmatched resources for influencing the populace, has little trouble turning the general will of society against militant workers in these counter-revolutionary times. Therefore, it is necessary, if the interests of workers everywhere are to be truly defended, that those resolute enough to strike act decisively, erecting picket lines that keep facilities from running – by force, if need be, because the good will of the public is not a dependable factor. Common sense? Yes, but the power of the regime unions is such as to cloud workers’ judgment in the heat of struggle, to blur the class lines, and to make a betrayal appear as a victory.
Of course, as the Hormel strike of 1985 showed, a localized militancy is not enough to win a strike. What is also necessary is a generalization of strikes against the isolation imposed on workers by division of labor. Only when the bosses’ system of production is threatened at several points, only when the operations of the companies are shut down, and not merely inconvenienced, can the strike become more than just symbolic. Moreover, the material gains of strikes aside, it is greatly important for workers from different trades, locations, and nationalities to unite – as our Manifesto declared in 1848, "Now and then the workers are victorious, but only for a time. The real fruit of their battles lie not in the immediate result, but in the ever expanding union of the workers." Again, the regime unions are incapable of extending strikes beyond their narrow starting points, nor of fostering real solidarity across the various divides. Those few strikes that encompass a larger territory are cut short before they can be effective.
What proletarians everywhere need are class unions, unions which are autonomous from the state and the bosses, which do not shun the class struggle, and which truly defend the workers’ interests. And defending these interests is not a matter of defending the collapsing welfare institutions offered by the bourgeois state, which are doomed to be swept aside when their reach the end of their convenience for the ruling class. Nor is it a matter of defending small wage or benefit increases which bosses make from time to time in the face of unions, but then reverse in times of difficulty. No, the real defense of proletarian interests consists in an offense against the institutions of capitalism, because capitalism inevitably sows misery among the proletariat. It is hoped that workers in the US, and workers everywhere, can take to heart the lessons which cropped up again in Southern California. They show that the existing unions are completely unsuited to the task of carrying out the class struggle, and that the class union must necessarily be constructed outside and against these unions.
It should be noted that the AFL-CIO is a federation of unions who are supposedly autonomous from the national structure. On paper, this means one cannot absolutely rule out the possibility of class unions arising within the AFL-CIO. But the fact of the matter is that, whether through organizational pressure or otherwise, the "autonomous" unions of the AFL-CIO have a funny way of all turning out to be "business unions" which take the same class-collaborationist approach. The AFL-CIO’s constitution enshrines the ideology and institutions of the US regime, and forbids officers who pursue goals of "terrorism" and "totalitarianism", which would be quickly interpreted to forbid communist participation should the occasion arise. This, along with the entrenched, overwhelming attitude of class-collaboration in this federation means that it is highly unlikely that a real workers’ union will emerge from within the AFL-CIO, and we advise workers not to count on it.
Even more strongly, we urge workers not to place their bets on phony "rank and file" movements within the regime unions, which aim to "democratize" these unions and supposedly make them more combative and accountable to the membership. In fact these movements are distractions against the real efforts rank-and-file workers must make to break with the regime unions and stand on their own feet against the bosses. Consider the Teamsters for a Democratic Union, a union reform movement that has been around for over 20 years. Not only have they nothing to show for all the years of their work, in terms of the Teamsters union becoming a more effective union, but their program has become little more than a mirror image of that of the regime union, however "democratic" their aims. A change of organizational forms means nothing when there is no content to go with it.
Furthermore, we call on workers to ignore the electoral charade, the perennial obsession of what passes for politics in bourgeois society. The centers of power in the bourgeois regime have long ago ceased to reside in the elected organs, which serve today as mere puppets and distracting propaganda tools. Kerry and Bush, and any other candidate, no matter how "independent" their populist rhetoric, are slaves to the same masters. The government of capital exists to preserve the power of the bosses and only by smashing this state machinery will the working class be able to erect a political body that serves their interests.
Workers must act truly independently, rejecting coalition with the bourgeoisie and their representatives, instead constructing the class union among themselves, whether they be members of the existing unions or outside of them. It is of course easier said than done. Clearly, though, one thing that is badly needed is constant communication between workers of every trade and locale, spreading information and facilitating solidarity, because the official unions will never promote such a development. We aren’t asking workers to leave the current unions right now in pursuit of the class union; such an action would be meaningless in the present time when no strong class union movement as yet exists. At this point, however, workers can prepare themselves to take strikes a step further when the unions cower, to raise the bar of militancy when the unions ask them to back down – in other words, to forward the class struggle whether the union sanctions such action or not. Meanwhile, workers can build networks, independent strike committees, and eventually form a union that puts class struggle back on the agenda. It is also possible that certain locals in the current unions could rebel, like the P-9 local during the Hormel strike, and then break away, joining the class union effort, but workers should be prepared to act autonomously of even the local if its militancy should waver.
And through all this, the small but faithful International Communist
Party, holding aloft the true Marxist program of the working class, will
always support and encourage the struggles of the class, and point enthusiastically
towards the bright victory of the class union and the proletarian dictatorship,
which will put the bosses and their collaborators in their place, and lead
humanity out of this social cesspool called capitalism.
The public transport workers’ strike
The resolute strikes of the drivers in many cities in Italy signifies the refusal of the conservative politics of confederal unionism, which has accepted an agreement that cuts the workers’ salaries and offends their will to fight. These strikes are opposed to the entire system of industrial relations founded on salarial moderation, on the politics of surrender, on the restraining of the right to strike.
This struggle finally breaks out of the cage of the more and more restrictive anti-strike laws, launched in the last few years by Parliament under pressure from the bosses and with the collaboration of the regime unions, in hopes of obstructing the class struggle. The public-transport workers, like the workers of the Alitalia who some days before have blocked the airport of Rome, have done away with the programmed, ordered strikes, restricted in time and space / ineffective, those empty and inoffensive rituals which demoralize those who undertake them and do not impact the interests of the Companies.
Soon workers of other industries, if they want to defend themselves from the increasing deterioration of their living conditions, will have to return to the classic weapon of the strike without warning and to the end, smashing legal codes and preparing themselves to face repression, through solidarity between the various sections of the working class.
All the organizations of base unionism, transcending harmful divisions, have contributed to organizing the struggle together with the most combative workers and have expressed their full solidarity; the CUB has suspected the Commission of guarantee of planning on retaliations and punishments, and has threatened to answer with an action of general struggle.
THE NATIONAL STRIKE OF PUBLIC TRANSPORT WORKERS CALLED BY THE BASE UNIONS FOR THE 9th OF JANUARY WILL BE A NEW STEP AHEAD TOWARDS CONSTITUTING AN ORGANIZATION THAT DEFENDS WITHOUT COMPROMISES THE INTERESTS OF THE WORKERS, WHICH ARE OPPOSED TO THOSE OF THE BOSSES.
THIS IS THE ROAD TOWARDS THE CONSTITUTION OF A CLASS UNION ORGANIZATION THAT, OVERSTEPPING THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE VARIOUS CATEGORIES, THE DIVISIONS BETWEEN PUBLIC AND PRIVATE SECTORS, UNITES THE GREATER PART OF THE WORKERS IN THE UNITED, SOLID FOREFRONT OF STRUGGLE.
There is therefore no choice but to reject the continuous attacks by the bosses and the State which, supported from the entire arc of parliamentary parties and by the regime unions, are intended to safeguard the pillage and profits and unload on the workers’ wages the consequences of the economic crisis.
3 December, 2003.
For a fourth month now, over 70,000 grocery workers of Krogers Co. (Ralphs), Albertsons Inc., and Safeway Inc. (Vons and Pavilion) owned supermarkets, in Southern California and beyond, are on strike against cuts to their health care. Their perseverance and the support from the working class community are an inspiration for all workers. The massive struggle of the grocery workers is a key event that marks the beginning of what will surely be many other struggles in other industries.
Unfortunately, the UFCW leadership engaged in a series of questionable tactics behind the workers’ backs – ending picket lines at Ralphs stores in October, then at distribution centers in December, and then lowering demands at the bargaining table. None of this brought any concession from the companies. Furthermore, strike benefits were slashed in half, while top union officials continued to pull in six-figure salaries. Meanwhile, the leadership of the Teamsters union, whose transport and distribution workers had engaged in a bold solidarity strike with the grocery workers, decided that solidarity should be merely symbolic and halted the strike.
Now that the AFL-CIO has assumed control of the grocery strike, it promises to support it with nationwide protests and public relations stunts, but what is sorely needed is increased direct economic pressure – more strikes, and pickets that actually shut down stores – against the companies nationwide, who continue to turn a national profit despite the pressure on their west coast branches. Such a step is missing from the AFL-CIO’s plan of action, which has not even reversed the retreats by the UFCW and Teamster leadership. It seems doubtful therefore that the AFL-CIO bureaucrats will do much better than those of the UFCW.
This impotence is typical of unions which are really tools of the State and the bosses, and insults the fighting spirit of the workers, who are in the midst of a life or death struggle. The AFL-CIO unions allow workers to express their class anger in strikes but cut them off before they become a real threat to the company interest, which is always directly opposed to the workers’ interests. That’s why, to win, the grocery workers must:Attacks on health care and wages aren’t exclusive to grocery workers; they’re being perpetrated against workers all over the country in the midst of an international economic crisis, a crisis inevitable in a capitalist economy. To successfully combat this bosses’ offensive, workers of all industries, including immigrant workers, and workers in other countries, must unite and reject the attempts by the ruling class to play workers in different sections against one another. In time, a class union must form which acts independently against the bosses, the State, and the official unions, and which defends the interests of the working class without compromise.
Solidarity with all grocery workers on strike, against the bosses and all their collaborators!
The Democratic Party and the AFL-CIO want workers to think that this coming election is a special one, one that, if Kerry’s elected, will mark a big shift in US policy, saving health care, creating jobs, and generally favoring the working class. It’s bullshit; all that’s special about this election is how much the "opposition" candidate resembles the incumbent from the get-go. All overblown rhetoric aside, the only real debates going on between Kerry and Bush are about who can do the same shit better, whether it’s depriving workers of health care, bombing so-called terrorists, or just maintaining the rule of the rich in general.
Of course, when Kerry’s trolling for votes at a union rally, you might hear him babble about how he’s going to save health care or punish corporations who give "American" jobs to workers in other countries. Never mind that Kerry backed the Clinton-era "welfare reform" which put millions of poor workers in an even worse situation, or that Kerry’s leading campaign contributors include corporations like Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and AOL Time Warner, leaders in "outsourcing" jobs. And does anyone believe for a moment that Kerry has any subtantial opposition to Bush on the issue of the Iraq war? The problem for Kerry isn’t that hundreds of US workers (both in military and civilian capacities) and thousands of Iraqi workers are being massacred, but that at the end of the day the aims of the ruling class in launching the war might not be fulfilled. What it comes down to is that we’ve got two rich Yale graduates with nearly identical programs battling it out for the White House.
The qualities of candidates aside, what workers must recognize above all is that the economy drives the policies of the state and not the other way around. The economy didn’t grow because of Clinton’s efforts nor collapse because of Bush’s failings – what we have is an irrational economic system, capitalism, which accumulates profits made from the labor power of the proletariat, and then breaks in the face of inevitable crises. The government responds to these changes with appropriate measures, but it’s the servant of capital and not its master. Throughout all of this, the working class is always exploited and deprived, and when the crises come they’re the first to suffer the consequences. That’s happening now, and, despite the bourgeois media’s obsession with the personalities and claims of various politicians, the privations forced on workers everywhere are the result of economic forces that act regardless of which party’s in power. In fact the two parties are just different wings of the same anti-worker party that has always controlled "our" government. Not even so-called independent candidates, with apparently pro-worker programs, can alter the fact that the bourgeois state is a tool of capital.
Health care can’t be saved when the ruling class which conceded it as an appeasement (when the economy was in better shape) is now committed to end it. The bourgeois giveth and taketh away – regardless of the populist piety espoused by charming "public servants." The real mission of workers isn’t to "save" the rotting social infrastructure provided for some workers by the ruling class; nor is it to keep "American" jobs from going to workers of poorer nations. Rather, it’s to unite workers everywhere, of every trade and nationality, into fighting class unions, to fire up the class struggle, and to attack capitalism – the root of all their grievances – at its core, internationally.
The mainstream unions today are completely unsuited to this task. Their rare gestures of militancy turn out chronically lame, and, while top union bureaucrats pull in six-figure salaries, the workers they supposedly represent continue to be fucked over and divided during ineffective strikes. The defeat of the massive Southern California grocery strike is one recent example of how incapable the AFL-CIO unions are of defending workers’ interests. These unions really exist just to tie workers to the regime that oppresses them, and now, even as they betray their members at the workplace, they want you to vote for John Kerry.
You can’t reform these regime unions, or make them real representative organs for the working class, because they’re intimately tied to the bourgeois regime. What proletarians need to do today, whether they’re in the current unions or outside of them, is to start coming together, across divisions of industry or locale, and begin to work seriously towards the formation of a new class union, a union that really represents workers, that’s run by workers, that isn’t afraid to make the bosses piss their pants, and that doesn’t sit around waiting for living conditions to get worse, but which puts up an unrelenting fight to raise workers’ living standards, and more importantly, to unite workers everywhere into a class force capable of smashing this system.
The electoral façade of the government only serves to mask a vast police state ready to bring out the guns whenever workers threaten the power of the rich. The working class can only emancipate itself by smashing this state structure and erecting a revolutionary proletarian dictatorship, and throughout all of this the working class must be led by their own International Communist Party.
The bourgeoisie have no problem securing their class domination and keeping workers in their place. The bosses are serious about class struggle. It’s about time that workers have a union and a party that are serious about it too.
Ignore the elections, unleash the class war!