This generous, international revolt of the working class will only be consolidated by reinforcing its defensive organisations, the trade unions; by challenging the parties and the liberal and democratic illusions of the petty bourgeoisie; by reconnecting with the Marxist programme and political party, in solidarity with the workers in all countries and against the criminal global reaction of capital.
Let the word ring out, so long mystified and prohibited: COMMUNISM
The Proletarian Giant
Egypt is one link in the chain of social crises caused by the economic recession, which is hitting the proletariat in the countries of young capitalism as much as in the old, along with the poor peasant farmers. The recession has induced the bourgeoisie to withdraw even the little it had conceded over the past few decades, and this has forced the proletariat onto the offensive, in the south as in the north of the world.
In Egypt, in struggles taking place throughout the country for several weeks, more than 300 people have been killed and thousands more wounded or incarcerated.
Returning to the streets en masse on February 11th to demand the removal from office of Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian protestors have obtained what they asked for. At the time of writing the head of State had resigned and the government of the country had passed into the hands of a Committee set up by the General Staff of the military.
The Army, who participated in the repression even if it was a job left mainly in the hands of the police, finally decided to abandon Mubarak and take power into their own hands, even if only temporarily – or so they are saying. Certainly this has caused a split between the sectors of the bourgeoisie prepared to defend the government at any cost and those prepared to sacrifice Mubarak and his numerous ‘clients’, apart from his alliance with the Washington, that is.
The United States, following the Tunisian uprising and the hasty exit of their man, Ben Ali, were faced with a sharpening of the revolt in Egypt and the threat of it spreading to neighbouring countries. Considering that Egypt is a country of key strategic importance in the Middle East and North Africa, and the country which the USA throws most money at in the region after Israel, it finally decided to press for a change in the head of government. The CIA it seems was taken by surprise by the recent events, explaining the odd twists and turns of American diplomacy, but the Pentagon, meanwhile, just to be on the safe side, sent battle ships to defend that vital artery of capitalism, the Suez Canal.
As far as Israeli diplomacy is concerned, it fought, without success evidently, to the bitter end to keep its faithful ally Mubarak firmly in place. And it also comes as no surprise to us that the Palestinian parties, Fatah and Hamas, reacted in the same way as the Israelis, and both of them, in the occupied territories and in Gaza, either repressed or contained the spontaneous manifestations of joy and solidarity with the Egyptians which burst onto the streets. Indeed Hamas actually took over the job of the Egyptian police by hermetically sealing the Rafah crossing.
The watchword of the bourgeoisie the world over, whether Arab, Egyptian or from elsewhere, is “change within continuity”, that is, the classic “changing everything in order to keep everything the same”.
In fact, what we are witnessing today in Egypt is a reinforcement of the regime. Mubarak’s government, after 30 years of open, brutal dictatorship and faced with an economic crisis ended up far too discredited in the eyes of all social classes. Leaving aside the working class, which is permanently rebellious, the petty bourgeoisie is no longer prepared to put up with a system which openly subjects it to the arbitrary decisions, corruption and the privileges of Big Capital, which for the most part is incarnated in a tiny minority of top officials and businessmen linked to the family of the president.
In Egypt, then, the big bourgeoisie, big finance and industry, centred mostly around the military hierarchy, is showing that it is prepared to make concessions to the people, who had taken to the streets, and to put a break on corruption and re-establish a certain ‘quantum’ of democracy and political liberty.
Given the lack of any bourgeois political party with a real programme of any recognisable interest to the masses, this ‘change’ can only be managed from above. And now, not only in the countries of young capitalism but everywhere else, the real party of the bourgeoisie looks for its base of support, in terms of power and intelligence, not from within the social mass but within the State apparatus itself and, in the case of Egypt, historically and in this particular case as well, within the army. Thus was it in 1953, with the national revolution of Gamal Abdel Nasser and his colleagues in the military.
Thus on the streets of the Egyptian cities there is a mixture of classes which are all colliding together. On the one side there is the lumpen proletariat of the capital, defending the supreme leader and the handouts they have come to expect from him. On the other hand there is the petty bourgeoisie, which is nationalist, in all its various sub-species and across its entire ideological spectrum, ranging from the Nasserites to the democratic liberals to the infinite varieties of Islamism, etc. Finally there is the working class, which takes the bourgeois watchwords of liberty and democracy to mean the possibility of trade union organisation, wage increases and reduction of the working day.
The only classes of any real significance in modern society are the proletariat, the bourgeoisie and the big landowners. The others are either hybrids or historical relics. Only classes have a historical and, at the appropriate juncture, revolutionary capacity. In Egypt as well, as though a war was approaching, we find the main classes, whether they are aware of it or not and whether they want it or not, silently preparing for battle: the working class concealed behind the iridescent superfetations of the middle classes; the capitalists and landowners behind the coteries and families who have been making use of their time in power to line their own pockets.
Indeed, the petty bourgeoisie, in its quest for greater democracy, political liberty and freedom of expression, has obtained fleeting satisfaction only because it has received the backing of that veritable giant, in both numerical terms and in terms of its long history of struggle, which is the Egyptian proletariat; those millions of workers in industry, services and agriculture who work for a miserable salary and who, faced with massive unemployment, have managed to organise themselves in clandestine trade unions despite the threat of prison and torture, and to engage in formidable strikes up to the point of obtaining significant victories, even if only partial and temporary.
The working class, despite being the central factor in the crisis, and despite seeing its struggles ignored by the media, which wants to depict a unitary but indistinct movement of people fighting for liberty, has managed to maintain a separate presence by demanding the freedom to form trade unions and to strike. It was the mobilisation of workers which forced the Mubarak government into conceding a 15% increase in wages to State employees; a demand which was straightaway taken up by workers in the private sector.
But now, when every patriot and every bourgeois is calling for an orderly “return to work” for the good of the country and to “build a new Egypt”, the proletariat can hardly share in the exultation of petty bourgeoisie about some old pharaoh being put out to grass; such an outcome certainly doesn’t satisfy the demand for significant and general wage increases, for trade union freedom, for work and for an income for the unemployed.
The test of strength on those issues will be with the new military, and the rendering of accounts is already happening at the Mahala Textile Company, where 20,000 textile workers are still out on strike despite the deployment of forces by the military.
In order to delay the inevitable social clash with the working class, even though it will not be long in coming, the big bourgeoisie, both Egyptian and foreign, is counting on the uncertainty of the political situation, on the novelty of the electoral farce, on euphoria over the few scraps of freedom which have been recovered.
But when that clash happens, the proletariat, in Egypt as everywhere else, mustn’t be caught unprepared.
It should continue on the path it has already embarked upon, of organising itself into trade unions which are independent of the State and the bosses; organisations which are indispensable not only to defend living standards and working conditions but also to protect its members and leaders; organisations which are needed to unite the class by the overcoming of all divisions of trade, sex, religion, in order to move on to the constitution of economic organisations of struggle at the national level.
It will need to keep its eye on the army, on its general staff, which has functioned up to now and will continue to function as the truncheon of bourgeois power and as long as it remains will be used against the proletariat.
It will also need to keep its eye on false friends such as the Muslim Brotherhood who, even if for decades they have not escaped persecution from the regime themselves, they have nevertheless long constituted an arms length anti-worker, anti-trade union and anti-communist militia.
The workers also must not place any faith in the bourgeois parties, even the most ‘democratic’ ones or of the so-called ‘left’, like the ex Egyptian Communist Party, which has always shown itself ready to turn its back on the workers whenever they are determined to go their own way.
The workers must reconnect with their international and anti-capitalist programme of social emancipation, which is separate from and opposed to that of all other parties. In communism’s programme there is, on the historic scale, the proletarian revolution – the time for it is already ripe – and the simultaneous overthrow of bourgeois power in all the countries of the region.
It is not an easy task which awaits the proletariat. And in order not to lose sight of the way ahead, which is full of pitfalls and unknown challenges, it is necessary that the most conscious and combative proletarians reconnect to the invariant tradition and the party of Marxist revolutionary internationalism.
Without its party, as centuries of experience have shown, the proletariat can arrive at the point of mounting a violent revolt, but not of transforming it into a revolutionary process; into a social movement capable not only of replacing a government of the bourgeois State but of overthrowing the bourgeois power, of striking at the heart of the regime of wage labour.
The sole revolutionary programme is the communist programme. The sole revolutionary party is the Communist Party. Every other party is inevitably reactionary and counter-revolutionary.
For there to be a communist revolution there needs to be a Communist Party, an organ of political combat forged over centuries and founded on clear and immutable principles, with a pre-established plan of revolutionary action, with a unique, centralised global leadership connected to a disciplined body of proven militants, who are faithful and enthusiastic, and solidly rooted within the working class and the main countries. A party known to soldiers in the armies, who alone can direct military actions needed to defend the revolution.
Only with this indispensable instrument – moving as one man because
able to predict events and the moves of its bourgeois enemy, and in the
full knowledge of the homicidal fury and tricks the latter will resort
to defend its privileges, but also of its inherent weaknesses – will
the victory of the working class be possible.
In Tunisia the proletariat has taken to the streets, forced into taking action by increasing poverty and growing unemployment. For over a month it fought the police and more than a 100 demonstrators lost their lives. What sparked the revolt was an increase in food prices. After a few weeks the petty bourgeoisie also joined the movement. The rise in prices was partly revoked.
Ben Ali, one of the many dictators in North Africa, has fled, urged on his way by his former collaborators and the army. He stood at the head of a system of corruption which was so vast that he had even become a dangerous liability to the country’s bourgeoisie, and was hated not just by the proletariat but by all social classes.
But of course corruption and nepotism are inevitable in all bourgeois societies. In Europe and America it also happens on a grand scale, with the recent expenses scandal in England just one example among many.
Tunisia is no stranger to social conflict. In 2008, following the sacking of miners in the Southern mining region of Gafsa, there was a protracted struggle against the forces of repression which lasted for 8 months.
Throughout the world we see confirmation of the Marxist thesis that capitalism is incapable of providing for humanity’s needs. The majority of African States have developed a ‘cash crop’ agriculture and monoculture which is geared to the export market. Although more profitable it has resulted in the ruin of the small-holding peasantry and it provides no nutritional benefit to the local population. What is more, a part of the global cereal production is dedicated to the production of fuel for motor vehicles. In a society based on capital and profit agriculture is inevitably neglected and food stocks are never sufficient.
In Tunisia today, the battle is between the members of the old government, who have been recycled as members of the new government, and the petty bourgeois parties. The bourgeois opposition is demanding a Provisional Government which includes all parties and new elections. The openly bourgeois parties like the Democratic Forum for Labour and Liberty, the Islamic parties, and the ex-Stalinist Ettajdid all aspire to a democratic government on the European model. The Communist Party of Tunisian Workers calls for a Constituent Assembly and a ‘genuine democratic republic’.
Once again they are setting the trap of democracy to ensnare the working class. This vile, decrepit bourgeois confidence trick, this new superstition which has virtually become a religion, now performs the same function in the West as Islam does in the Arab world and the Middle East. Democracy has as its economic basis the exploitation of wage labour; it is the mask behind which lurks the dictatorship of the big bourgeoisie and the big landowners. Under democratic regimes as well it is still they that decide the fate of all the millions of workers and their families.
It may well be that a new Tunisian government is formed and declares itself to be democratic, and yet, due to the grave economic and social crisis, it will not be long before it is inevitably transformed back into a dictatorship. But the Tunisian proletariat – deprived as it is today of its communist and revolutionary political party – will be powerless even if the opposition parties do win the election. The overthrow of the Ben Ali family is not enough to liberate the proletariat from capitalism and poverty. For that to happen the proletariat will have to organise itself into a vast network of trade union organisations, permeable to revolutionary activity, which regroup all workers on the basis of defending their immediate interests and which includes the unemployed as well. These organisations, same as everywhere else, will have to take up a position outside and against official trade-unionism, which in Tunisia’s case is represented by the UGTT, which is in the hands of the bourgeoisie.
To prepare for the overthrow of capitalism in every country, the vanguard of the Tunisian proletariat, and that of North Africa as a whole, will need to enrol itself in the ranks of the International Communist Party.
But nothing can detract from the fact that the Tunisian proletariat, which flexed its muscles and overthrew this bloody regime, has provided an inspirational example and given hope both to itself and to the exploited of the Maghreb and, we could say, to the entire world. Egyptian proletarians have already risen up and ousted another dictator, other battles have erupted in the Yemen and Bahrain, and now a civil war rages in Libya.
But not only the gangrenous regimes of North Africa and the Middle East, but also those in ‘rich Europe’ have seen the writing on the wall in the events in Tunisia.
This crisis is in fact neither Tunisian nor North African but is linked
to the crisis of international capitalism. It is part of a chain of events
which include, amongst others, the social movements in Greece and the strikes
in Portugal and Spain, which announce that the countdown to the overthrow
of bourgeois domination has already begun.
Marxism views history as a series of modes of production and of relationships between human beings determined by them, from primitive communism, organic and natural, through to the societies based on class divisions. The capitalist epoch established itself on the basis of modern production techniques which utilised the discoveries of science and concentrated the workers in great factories. The modern proletariat, deprived of any means of subsistence, was to become a seller of its own labour power.
However, under capitalism improvement of the systems of production generates increasing misery and insecurity instead of being a condition for well-being. The enormous accumulation of commodities produced, for the most part useless or dangerous, and which the market cannot absorb, generates the phenomenon of over-production, of poverty amongst wealth, which is such a defining characteristic of capitalism.
In addition, the increased employment of machinery and relative reduction in the number of workers produce the tendency of the rate of profit to fall: the more Capital’s unrestricted growth seems to make it a force which entirely dominates society, the more its power and vitality is reduced. This mechanism which underlies the economic crisis means it is impossible to remedy.
It is this ‘agonal’ state of capitalism which forces States to have recourse to imperialist war: it is just to postpone its own demise that on the one hand the global bourgeois class pushes for an increase in the extortion of surplus value from the working class, and on the other, to precipitate humanity into a third imperialist war, in which the workers will be lined up against each other on opposite sides of the barricades; intimidated or brainwashed into fighting for ‘their’ country, and thus for ‘their’ bourgeoisie, rather than for their own, international class.
The crisis in 1929 led the imperialisms to declare war on each other
during the second world massacre: only after destroying people, cities,
machinery, commodities did they manage to get a new cycle of accumulation
underway again. This demented cycle of growth drew to a close in the mid-seventies,
when the current crisis really started.
AND THE INTERNATIONAL WORKING CLASS
There is only one force within capitalist society which can deal the death blow to this regime, the working class, the class that not only already produces all of the wealth but which also, having once freed itself from its political and economic subjugation to capital, is the bearer of the new society, communism, which from within the capitalist shell is pushing ever harder to emerge into the full light of day.
But today, due to the immense difficulties encountered on its centuries’ long path to emancipation, the global working class, despite the conditions being objectively mature, is forced to start once again from nothing.
The revolutionary bid for power in the first two decades of the last century produced a world communist party, the Third Communist International, and basing itself on the radical intransigent theses of left Marxism, it achieved victory for the revolution in Russia and took power in the name of the world communist revolution.
The revolutionary wave, the mainstay of which was proletarian defeatism in peace and in war, would eventually be defeated, thenceforth the working class would be assailed on all sides by lies and betrayals – worse even than those that caused the degeneration of the Second social-democratic International – which made it forget its class interests and the hard lessons of the past.
Stalinism, Maoism and Castroism, along with the theory of socialism in one country, would all end up concealing capitalist and bourgeois parties, states and economies, all of which were total capitalist, under the banner of communism.
In parallel the communist movement would support the demand to defend bourgeois democracy and would ally itself with the forces of anti-fascism, the degenerate communist parties turning into the most eager defenders of parliaments, constitutions and bourgeois justice.
The trade union movement was dragged into this vortex of submission
to capitalist institutions too. If previously it had been inspired to fight
not only immediate economic battles around jobs and wages but also to realise
its true purpose by fighting for the long-term goal of the emancipation
of the working class from capital, it would now jettison this view.
WHY THE CRISIS IS
The crisis of capital doesn’t, in the final analysis, represent a crisis for the working class, even if it will be hardest hit by its consequences. Properly understood it represents the mortal crisis of its social and historical enemy and is the premise for the revolutionary overthrow of the present regime, and for the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat.
Comrades! We must start again from square one!
The working class has its stock of theory, its vision of the world along with a century and a half of lessons learnt in the course of many defeats and a few, great victories. Everything it has been taught, by enemies and false friends, over the last eighty years has proved to be lies and falsehoods; however, it has never been betrayed or deceived by authentic Marxism, whose correct predictions about capitalism’s crash are before the eyes of all.
The present task is reconnection with the original communist doctrine and with the International Communist Party; the party which alone is the depositary of this doctrine, and which alone is capable of deploying it within the organisation and wielding it in the realm of political activity.
On the plane of the immediate struggle to defend working conditions, wage levels, etc, the international proletariat will need to find the strength to respond to the sustained attack it is being subjected to by reequipping itself with a class trade union organisation, which having as its aim the unconditional defence of the workers will once again reject any co-responsibility with the bourgeoisie for the economy in the name of ‘the national interest’. This union, organised on a territorial basis as well as by trade, will include workers of different trades, nationalities and political opinions, the employed and the unemployed, and bring together workers currently kept separate in individual workplaces. This will favour the coordination of battles fought for common objectives and lead to greater unity.
The great task that awaits present and future generations of
workers is a stirring prospect; the communist emancipation of mankind from
this thoroughly rotten and decrepit society.
The assault by the Israeli army’s crack troops on a flotilla of cargo ships hired by pacifists of various nationalities, who wanted to force the naval blockade of the Gaza Strip and bring in essential goods for the people subjected to the embargo, is a new act of war in a region that hasn’t known peace for almost a century.
Whilst in the UNO’s sumptuous headquarters diplomatic talks between the States flounder in a mire of endless debates, providing further evidence of this institution’s inconclusiveness and hypocrisy, the bloodshed and suffering of war looms once again as the unique solution to the economic crisis which is presently strangling the bourgeois society of global capital.
The bourgeois state of Israel’s continual provocations against neighbouring states and peoples are nothing but an instrument of world capitalism’s imperialist policy, and in particular of the United States, which is interested in permanently stoking up tensions in this crucial region and keeping it politically and economically divided.
The bourgeois state of Israel, the same as, and maybe even more than, other industrialised states is also experiencing a profound domestic crisis, from the political and social as well as the economic point of view. The attack on Lebanon and the ‘molten lead’ offensive against Gaza has already shown that the Israeli government can see no other way of easing the crisis than war.
All these wars have had as their primary victim Palestinian civilians, and the proletariat in particular. But Jewish proletarians have also been its victims, forced into the army to act as jailers and tormentors, and at the same time to accept any sacrifice imposed in the name of ‘national defence’; the strategic interests of its own bourgeoisie in other words.
These continual wars have therefore not produced the security and peace promised over the course of three generations. On the contrary, they threaten to entangle the entire region in a new conflict, and one which would be disastrous for the proletariat as a whole, irrespective of religion, race or nationality.
What they fear most is that the proletariat in Israel, and in every other country for that matter, disorientated for decades by the warmongering propaganda of both the social democratic and the openly reactionary parties, will withdraw its solidarity from the dominant classes; classes which are increasingly corrupt, incompetent, and whose sole interest and abiding obsession is the maintenance of their privileges.
There is another road which the working class in all countries, Israel included, can follow, a road that goes in a very different direction to the one it’s been following up to now: that of the road to class solidarity and class struggle. In the Middle East this means the Israeli proletariat uniting and collaborating with the proletariat in Palestine and in the rest of the region in a joint struggle against the bourgeoisie, in order to defend its immediate and future class interests. For this to happen, the proletariat will need to rediscover its political independence, its own party, and internationalist and revolutionary communism.
And are the bourgeoisie’s solutions really ‘more realistic’? Is imprisonment within the Gaza Strip and the Left Bank, starvation wages with no prospect of a decent life, and thousands of young Palestinian proletarians putting their faith in the nationalist parties really the way forward? What can Palestinian micro-nationalism offer to the workers in a situation of crisis in which millions of unemployed, even in the big industrialised states, are going hungry?
Against war between states! For war between classes to achieve proletarian
emancipation, real peace in a classless society and Communism! This
prospect, which today seems a distant unrealisable Utopia is, in fact,
only realistic way of achieving proletarian emancipation.
The following short articles, designed to be distributed as leaflets, and translated from Italian into several other languages so as to be accessible to immigrant workers, situate the issue of race where it belongs: squarely within the context of the international working class struggle against capitalism. The first was written in response to a revolt of immigrant workers in the Calabrian town of Rosarno in the South of Italy. Rising anger about appalling working and living conditions finally erupted after two immigrant farm workers were subjected to a random airgun attack in early January 2010.
The second leaflet takes up the same theme in a more general way,
and was distributed on March 1st 2010 at a demonstration in
Italy called in defence of the rights and conditions of immigrant workers.
A question of Class and Class struggle, not Race!
The immigrant farm workers have proved they can contain their anger no longer. Their explosive demonstration is a body blow to the apologists of the ‘progressive nature’ of capitalism. Their strike that exploded on the streets of Rosarno, for such indeed it was, wasn’t an episode in a racial war but a battle between the two opposed sides in a class war; a typical seasonal farm workers’ struggle bearing all the same tumultuous features of its centuries-old history. On one side stands a strata of completely proletarian wage-earners who, like the rest of their class, have nothing to lose and no country, whilst on the other side stand the landowners and the agrarian capitalists, with their state, their police and armed janissaries; whilst on the trees the ripening fruit waits to be harvested.
Just the fact of the class sticking up for itself was enough to terrorise the bourgeoisie and get all of its hired thugs to make a hasty exit.
Yes, certainly the farmworkers’ living and working conditions were ‘fit for slaves’, and their pay miniscule, as the bourgeois bleeding hearts have not been slow to point out. But such conditions are, in fact, the usual lot of the casual labourer. Starvation wages and unbearably long hours are normal and inevitable for workers under capitalism; as much the case now in capitalism’s decline and death throes as during its ascent in the eighteenth century. Is the condition of the young part-time worker in the ‘rich North’ really any better, even though they’re white Italian citizens? Do they earn more than the 30 euros a day that ‘the Negro’ gets? Aren’t they sacked without warning and without back pay as well, whenever the boss can get away it?
Racism, the fruit of a dirty campaign skilfully organised by the bourgeois regime’s clever tricks department, is the required instrument to divide the working class front. The other major rift is the one lying between old workers in ‘permanent’ jobs and young workers who are deprived of any protection or security. It isn’t a matter of fighting racism with anti-racism, of ‘integrating them’ into ‘our’ society, but of integrating them into our class and into our struggles. And clearly it is the Italian workers who need to be integrated, not the immigrant farmworkers!
Not a hint of this simple truth can be detected in the pronouncements of the regime unions. There is not a mention of it in either the FIOM or the RdB documents.
Everything is blamed on ‘local criminality’, as if instead of the problem being inevitable in capitalist society it was a question of ‘public order’, or was the result of a particular type of ‘immorality’ against which the workers should concentrate their efforts, side by side with the ‘honest’ bourgeois, of course, to make their state function better. The working class must fight against the bourgeois state not seek to ‘improve’ it. And indeed the ‘ndrangheta’ would be hard put to squeeze the workers any more than the state is already doing on behalf of the bourgeoisie.
The real responsibility for the harsh conditions of the farm workers and illegal immigrants in general is certainly to be ascribed to the discriminatory laws of the bourgeois state, who divide workers according to their passports. But this has only been possible because the regime’s unions, the Cgil-Cisl-Uil-Ugl, have never opposed this divide and rule tactic, and have done nothing for the great mass of workers forced into illegality. The defence of the working class includes the struggle to defend its weakest and most vulnerable elements, something that is necessary to oppose the bourgeois organisation of blackleggery by the utilisation of the most blackmailable and lowest paid workers, whether temporary workers or immigrants. The unions have abandoned the ‘illegal’ immigrants to the same degree they have accepted the ‘regularisation’ of temporary work, because they are unions which are betrayers of the working class as a whole. The common organisation of every type of wage worker and a joint trade union fight for common objectives, with the mobilisation and strength which the full timers would bring, would defend these particularly vulnerable workers and also the new generation of workers.
The anti-racists, who organise the immigrants as immigrants instead of alongside the Italian workers, regard racism as a kind of illness from which present society needs to be cured whilst we regard it as a weapon of the bourgeoisie in its permanent war against the working class. With its weak and moralizing tone, anti-racism is an expression of the petty bourgeois thinking which is totally extraneous to the working class. It is an anti-racism which does nothing to tackle the underlying causes of racism.
The more the conditions of workers of every nationality, race and trade come to resemble each other, the easier and more urgent will it become for them to reorganise as a unitary fighting trade union and for them to recover the old perspective of a common emancipation.
With that in mind we address the class – of Rosarno, and everywhere
else in the world – and invite them to proclaim, along with us their,
and our, one instruction: Workers of the world unite!
The proletariat is a class of migrants; a global class of the exploited which transcends national boundaries; a class whose true collective interest is to fight to defend its living and working conditions since it has nothing to lose and a world to gain.
The bourgeoisie seeks to hide this truth from the workers. In every country it seeks to restrict the resolution of problems to within the narrow confines of national boundaries. The mass media, with its cynical and well orchestrated racist campaigns, encourages mistrust and hatred between the indigenous and the immigrant worker. In the performance of this infamous task the democracies are demonstrating that they are even more sophisticated and efficient than openly racist and dictatorial bourgeois regimes of past and present.
The bourgeoisie’s racist propaganda takes advantage of the competition between indigenous and immigrant workers that was created by the bourgeoisie to divide the working class, weaken it and make it easier to exploit. As such, racism is no different from the other means of creating divisions which the bosses use, such as the employment of workers on short-term contracts, the subcontracting of work to external companies, the rift between older workers on ‘protected’ terms and conditions and younger workers without any kind of protection or security, and the division between workers in different companies and workplaces as a result of the progressive dismantling of collective bargaining at a national level.
So, racism isn’t a sick instinct from which bourgeois society can be cured, but rather the inevitable fruit of the latter’s conditions of existence and a weapon in the class war waged between capital and the proletariat. It will disappear when there is no more class struggle, after classes themselves have become extinct, after the proletariat has freed itself from wage labour; it will happen under communism.
It is for this reason that fighting racism with anti-racism, on the abstract plane of opinions and moral values, is not only useless but positively dangerous. Communism does not set as its goal an impossible inter-cultural mediation, but aspires to go beyond mankind’s ancient historic cultures in order to synthesise them into a higher form which will stand in opposition to all of them.
The battle being fought today is a classist and proletarian one which has unity as its objective. Its aim is to prevent the employment of workers under worse terms and conditions, whether through lower salaries, the greater ease with which workers can be sacked or through them being in a position where they can be blackmailed by the threat of expulsion if they are sacked! The really important struggles of the working class are those that coincide with the defence of its weakest components: by taking part in these struggles the workers who are relatively less exploited are above all looking after their own interests, insofar as they prevent their more blackmailable class brothers and sisters from exercising a downward pressure on their own terms and conditions.
These simple, sound principles of class action and class struggle have been trampled on at an international level by pro-regime trade unionism which everywhere has adopted a diametrically opposed method: with the state and bosses they have pursued a tactic which first saw the conditions of temporary workers, immigrants, young people and employees of small businesses being attacked, immediately followed by a further onslaught on the last restricted circle of workers with ‘safe’ jobs, thus obtaining the defeat of the entire working class.
In every country the official unions (in Italy, the Ggil-Cisl-Uil-Ugl, in France the Ugt and Cfdt, in England, the trade unions in their poisonous alliance with the labour Party) are all organisations which have permanently passed over to the side of the bosses. Those who continue to militate within them with a view to restoring them to heath (like the CGIL left) have achieved nothing at all over the last thirty years, apart from facilitating anti-worker action by spreading the illusion of internal pluralism and retarding and boycotting the work of reconstructing a genuine class union.
But to those today who, using the betrayal of the Cgil-Cisl-Uil as pretext, claim that they wish to fight against racism outside the field of trade union struggle by organising demonstrations of inter-class opinion, or who propose that immigrant workers should strike on their own (something impossible to achieve and doomed from the start) we say to them that the only contribution they are making is to create new, and worse, disorientation and confusion.
The one way forward is to reconstruct the class’s trade union organisation, and organise it on a territorial basis like the traditional Camere del Lavoro, (the chambers of labour similar in some respects to the old trade’s councils and labor unions in England and America). These were organised outside the workplaces and united the different trades, enabling them to include workers from smaller companies as well and to act on the basis of the principles of class struggle. It would be a movement, for example, which wouldn’t distance itself from revolts such as those of the Rosarno labourers and their quite understandable reaction to being shot at, but which would consider them as its own; a movement which would seriously aspire to an ever broader movement culminating in the general strike as a means of obtaining the real immediate objectives of the working class:
-Reduced working hours with no reduction of pay!
-A guaranteed wage for unemployed workers!
-Wage increases, especially in the worst paid sectors!
-Rights of citizenship for immigrant workers!
Throughout Europe the bosses and the various bourgeois governments are attacking the workers’ living standards, because increasing their exploitation of the working class is the only way they can keep the capitalist economy, inexorably heading towards a crash, afloat.
In ensure the success of these attacks the bourgeoisie is using every means at its disposal to divide the working class.
Racism, which is being cynically propagated in the media, is a weapon used by the bosses to divide the workers, as indeed is part-time work, the subcontracting of work by companies to external agencies, the split between old ‘guaranteed’ workers and young workers without any job security or protection, the competition between workers of various agencies and firms due to the progressive dismantling of national wage negotiations, and the competition between public sector workers and those employed by private companies.
The more the Italian workers neglect immigrant workers the more they weaken themselves and lay themselves open to being blackmailed by their bosses; the more they are forced to accept lower wages and worse working conditions; the more the competition between workers exerts its crippling effect. The true struggle of the working class corresponds with the defence of those most prone to blackmail: by fighting for them, the workers who are relatively less exploited defend themselves from a competitive downward pressure being exerted on their own terms and conditions.
It is in the interest of the entire working class to fight to see immigrant workers relieved from the threat of losing their residence permits if they are laid off and for an extension of the right of citizenship to their families.
It is likewise in the interest of the entire working class to fight the blackmail of unemployment by struggling, employed and unemployed together, for the reduction of working hours and for the right to full pay for workers who are laid off; to prevent suppliers of contract labour who employ workers on worse terms and conditions from entering the factory or workplace; to prevent the hiring of workers on short-term, lower paid contracts; and to defend the national contract for each trade.
In order to defend itself from the effects of the crisis and from the increasingly harsh attacks by the bosses, the working class needs a genuine working-class union which, setting out from its struggles in the workshop, factory, company and trade, addresses itself directly to the workers and prepares them to mobilise together for a general strike, for as long as necessary and in pursuit of clear objectives, namely: against sackings, for unemployment pay related to the cost of living, for the defence of national bargaining and contracts, for rights of citizenship for immigrant workers and their families, for the reduction of working hours without a reduction in wages. These have been the objectives of the working class movement throughout its existence and they are based on the principle that defending the working class means eliminating competition from lower paid workers, which includes immigrant and unemployed workers. Such objectives can only be attained by a general movement, organised and led by a true working class union.
Rebuilding such a trade union is therefore an unavoidable question for the entire working class. Today it could emerge from a unification of rank-and-file trade unionism, which for many years has been struggling amidst countless difficulties against the bosses and the regime unions, unreservedly taking up the cause of the immigrant workers as the cause of all workers. But this unification can only emerge ‘from below’, overcoming sectarianism and the career politicking of the present leaders. It is therefore incumbent on the most combative and far-seeing workers and delegates in all the trade unions to organise themselves within their respective organisations to combat the serious damage being caused by the current divisions within rank-and-file trade unionism.
Racism isn’t an illness from which capitalism can be cured.
Fighting racism with anti-racism, on the abstract plane of morality and
respect for different cultures, is not just ineffective but dangerous,
since it attacks none of racism’s material foundations. The only truely
anti-racist struggle is the class struggle, because it unifies workers
beyond race and nationality, and because it leads them to pass beyond
capitalism to communist society; a society free from the slavery
of wage labour, and the only material basis possible for the elimination
of exploitation, racism and all the other reactionary ideologies of this
increasingly inhuman and anti-historical society.
[In September and October 2010, a massive wave of strikes and demonstrations swept through France to oppose the government’s latest attack on worker’s living standards. This leaflet, translated into English, was produced by our Parisian comrades and speaks for itself]
You are told the State is massively in debt (to the tune of E.1,500 Billion), that the Office administering benefits and pensions has an appalling deficit and that you must therefore make sacrifices to save the system. Notably to accept you have to work longer for a smaller pension.
The reality is that the capitalist system is an economic system which is outmoded and parasitic. This miserable system which relies on the mean and despicable exploitation of wage labour, just as feudalism uses to rely on the exploitation of serf labour, has become a hindrance to humanity’s future development. It has only survived up to now thanks to two world wars.
Ever since 1975 the capitalist economy has experienced cycles of expansion and recession every 5 to 10 years. That is to say that every 5-10 years there is a recession which lasts on average two years. After the cycle before last, which ended in 2000, and the recession which followed it, industrial growth in the European States and in North America has virtually ground to a halt: 1% average annual growth in the USA between 2000-2007; 0.47% in Japan; 0.5% in France; -0.6% in England; -0.2% in Italy. Germany is the only exception with growth over the same period of 2.3%.
With each recession “les prélèvements obligatoires ” (equivalent to National Insurance contributions in England) decrease and the deficit in the social security budget continues to rise to astronomical levels, not to mention all the exemptions from charges allowed to the bosses. And what does the future hold? In 2009 the world approached a recession of 1929-like proportions, a situation only avoided by getting further into debt. As for China, which shows us prodigious, although slightly embellished, figures for industrial growth, its current expansion is due to State investments of several billion dollars and a huge extension of credit. About half of this credit is used for speculative purposes. We can therefore say that China, just like Europe and the United States, is faced with a situation of over-production.
How does the bourgeoisie ensure the survival of this economic system which guarantees it its class privileges? By putting pressure on the proletariat, by keeping unemployment levels high so it can exert a downward pressure on wages, by replacing long-term with short-term contracts by making work more ‘flexible’ and by increasing workloads, etc, etc.
The upshot is poverty on the one hand (according to INSEE – the Institut national de la statistique et des études économiques – 13.5% of the French population are living on less than E.850 per month) and immense wealth and parasitism on the other. And these measures, which for thirty years now have been applied as much by governments of the ‘left’ as of the ‘right’, how effective in fact are they? Have they actually brought about economic recovery? No! The only result has been the massive growth of a stratum of parasites (CEOs, shareholders, speculators) and States and private individuals getting into ever greater debt.
We are on the eve of a new crisis of over production deeper even than the Great Crash of 1929. The capitalist system came within a hair’s breadth of it in 2009 and avoided it only by getting even deeper in debt. And now it’s you they want to bail the system out!
And the measures proposed by the government, do you think they will solve the problem? Probably not, because they are totally ridiculous! They presuppose the assumption that the rate of unemployment can be brought down to 4.5% of the active population, and that this would result in a sufficient surplus to plug the hole in unemployment benefit funding. They must be joking! Since the 1980s, according to INSEE, unemployment has never dropped below 9%. And of course the INSEE’s unemployment figures, just like its inflation figures, are government figures, and thus rigged in the interests of propaganda. Basing our own figure on those of working age, and on those who actually have a job, one can arrive at a far more accurate figure: 5 million out of work before 2007, and almost 7 million today. As for the rate of growth in industrial production (along with agriculture the basis of all wealth) we already know it was virtually zero in the period which preceded the recession. That is why these measures really are not viable. Now they just want you to work until you are 62, but in a couple of years time, if the crisis hasn’t hit before then, they’ll want you to work until you’re 65, and then 67!
Why should we make sacrifices when the annual production of wealth per inhabitant is higher today than it was ten years ago and much higher than 20 or 30 years ago? Should we do so to save an economic system which is based on exploiting wage labour, and guaranteeing the privileges of a tiny minority of parasites?
We do well to remember the Moulinex workers, who accepted anything and everything to prevent the closure of their factories and ended up losing their jobs anyway.
The big industrial and financial bourgeoisie and its government are preparing a whole ‘tranche’ of austerity measures to get you to pay for the crisis.
Meanwhile there is a solution: Communism! Capitalism has now developed the economic basis for communism on a massive and global scale, but it has had its day. All production is now already organised collectively and is centralised. The means of production now require social organisation. Lone individuals are no longer able to control them and utilise them as was the case in the days of the artisan. The workers no longer own what they produce as their personal property or own their means of production. There is a contradiction between this economic base and capitalism’s mercantile relations of production.
This is why it is necessary to oppose the bourgeoisie and its State by rejecting its so-called ‘reforms’ and its austerity measures.
This must be done at first on the economic level by means of trade union struggle; in the process rediscovering the sense of solidarity and brotherhood between fellow workers by overcoming professional, racial and age divisions, and by rejecting the defence of national or company interests; capital’s interests in other words.
For this it will be necessary to set up a trade union that defends class interests; a union which, unlike the class collaborationist organisations such as the CGT, CFDT, and FO, won’t organise workers on the basis of job category but will rather try to overcome all divisions; a union which won’t hesitate to initiate radical struggles which go beyond company and regional boundaries; a union which will try to organise general strikes on a national scale and, when the moment arrives, on an international scale as well.
But to go beyond this economic system, which is leading us all to disaster, an organisation which fights economic battles will not be enough. It will be necessary to organise on the political level as well in order to overthrow the power of the big industrial, commercial and financial bourgeoisie and expropriate it. There is no other way.
For this you will need to enrol in the ranks of your party, the INTERNATIONAL COMMUNIST PARTY, which keeps itself firmly anchored in the programmatic foundations of revolutionary communism, and whose aim is to abolish capitalist relations of production (capital and wage labour) to allow a communist society to freely develop.
The old world must give birth to communism but only the workers’
struggle can make it happen.
Following the recent emergency budget in the UK, which outlines the government’s proposals for major cuts in welfare benefits, social services and in other state spending, there has been a remorseless campaign in the capitalist media to enforce their acceptance, which can be summed up in the oft repeated mantra: ‘the cuts are necessary; the cuts are necessary; the cuts are necessary’.
Once again we are being told that the ‘bitter pill’ of austerity and sacrifice must be swallowed to restore ‘the nation’s finances’ to ‘health’. But it appears not all will share the burden, and indeed an especial source of anger is the fact that the banking elite, recently baled out to the tune of billions of pounds from State income, is already back to awarding itself massive multi-million pound bonuses. Given that, and the palpable sense of injustice it has provoked, the proletariat this time round might not be quite so happy paying for the crisis. And the direct attacks on the wages of those in work, already suffering significant pay cuts along with an intensification of labour, is now to be compounded by an attack on the reserve army of labour – the unemployed and the sick, already condemned to a poverty-stricken half-life on the margins of society.
Discontent is already bubbling to the surface, but unfortunately the recent industrial action in the underground about staff cuts and rising discontent in the Public Sector has not met with a very robust response at the recent Trades Union Congress, which has merely come up with a few soporific measures to try and contain the situation, consisting of the same tired old remedy of ‘lobbying MPs’ and of course the obligatory ‘demo’; on this occasion postponed for six months until March 2011. No one can accuse the TUC of striking when the iron is hot!
An example of the proposed attacks by the Government on the unemployed is the introduction of a cut in Housing Benefits to 90% of full entitlement if a claimant is unable to find a job within a year of first signing on. This reduced payment is a truly harsh measure which effectively blackmails the unemployed into taking any job at all, even with dire working conditions and pay, rather than risk losing their accommodation and ending up on the streets.
The State’s campaign to cut the welfare bill will also attack the sick by extending the definition of those deemed ‘capable of work’ to large sections of those suffering from one type of illness or another. The government has set a target of half-a-million of those currently on Incapacity Benefit to be redefined as fit-for-work. The way this is being accomplished is by incorporating Income Support (sickness benefit) and Incapacity Benefit into a new benefit called Employment & Support Allowance (ESA) for which claimants will have to be reassessed. To re-qualify for ESA, current claimants will be asked to attend gruelling ‘medicals’, conducted by stony-faced interrogators, who are often very intimidating and have anything other than what can be described as a ‘bedside manner’. The new questionnaire is evidently designed to redefine people hitherto defined as ‘sick’ as ‘capable of (some form of) work’, despite the fact that most of this group will only be able to perform the most specialised jobs, in specialised settings and for specific periods of time, and will be competing against other workers in the job market who will be deemed by employers t be less of a risk.
Those claimants who are redefined as ‘capable of work’ then have to abide by the same regime as the rest of the unemployed.
Those already signing on as unemployed are finding themselves under increasing pressure to find work by the Job Centres. The latter, and the various companies to whom the Job Centres sub-contract the work, keep benefit claimants busy by filling in endless, often conspicuously short, CVs, and by sending their ‘customers’ off on various pointless ‘work placements’, which generally lead precisely nowhere for the individuals concerned: as often as not they find, at the end of a work placement into which they entered in the expectation of possible paid work at the end of it, that they are suddenly replaced by a new batch of unemployed hopefuls, and the realisation dawns that the have been used as cheap, nay free, labour.
Another indignity the unemployed have to put up with is the risk of being ‘sanctioned’. This consists of a reduction in benefit which is imposed, amongst other reasons, if the clamant is held to be not ‘putting his back into applying for work’ (the efforts made have to be evidenced and documented), or not attending at the designated time to ‘sign on’ for the benefit and declare oneself ‘available for work’, with or without good reason. This ‘sanction’ not only results in basic benefits being stopped but has a knock on effect on housing and council tax benefits, since the departments that administer these benefits are automatically informed of the claimant’s ‘change of circumstances’ arising from the sanction, with these latter benefits being abruptly withdrawn, producing consequent worry about rent and irate landlords. And now many of the charities and agencies, funded largely by the State, who currently help the unemployed unravel these various paperwork trails and to launch appeals are themselves at risk from the threatened cuts.
So, the unemployed, now forced to compete not only with each other but with the new influx of those previously designated as sick and incapable of work, will be especially hard hit. And those who do end up in employment will find, as often as not, that they are working for virtually the same amounts they received when on benefits! After jumping through all the hoops and straining every nerve to find a job, it is surely small comfort for these workers to find they still remain trapped in poverty.
The TUC’s position on the Unemployed
So what attempts to organise the unemployed have been made over recent years? A very revealing insight is given in an article, available on the internet, entitled ‘Why I resigned from the TUC’s ‘Consultative’ Committee of Unemployed Workers Centres’.
We note first that Unemployment Centres arose in the 1980s, during an earlier time of especially high unemployment, and that they sprang up all over the country and numbered 150 at their height, eve if by 2009 merely 50 remained.
These were useful up to a point by breaking down isolation amongst the unemployed, and by providing some support and advice around benefits along with a limited sense of solidarity in the best of cases. But these centres are certainly not a universal panacea, and our stance is that the most important organisational factor is that which enables the unemployed to be organised alongside the employed, and that this should be a core priority of any trade union which claims to have a classist outlook.
The running of these unemployed workers centres has varied in different parts of the country. The unemployed centre in Liverpool was run largely as a business enterprise, mainly as a Conference Centre, and definitely not for the unemployed. The tough management stance there would actually lead to industrial action by the cleaning staff. Indeed, the person who organised the cleaning staff (against management) was barred from the centre – and the police were subsequently called in to escort him out of centre’s trendily named “Flying Picket” bar!
Anyway, the author of the article cited above refers to how the unemployment centres were forced to go cap in hand to government agencies and local authorities to seek funding, and how funds were consequently made conditional on the centres adopting a ‘non-political’ stance and reducing their campaigning activities (the State demonstrating, thereby, that it was well aware of the potential for such centres to become potential centres of agitation, veritable ‘chambers of unemployment’ even). The author declares himself as the secretary of a TUC recognised unemployment centre and as such he was elected from his region to a body known as the National Consultative Meeting of the Unemployed Workers Centres (NCMUWC).
The author explains:
«I attended one meeting to which I sent a paper ‘What is the purpose and role of the Unemployed Workers Centres’ Committee?’. I never got an answer. The Committee, all 5-6 of them, became extremely defensive. We are just there for the TUC to consult. It’s not our fault if the number of Centres has declined. And of course that is true, to some extent. But the Committee purports to be the main voice of the unemployed to the TUC and to represent TUC Unemployed Workers Centres. Yet apart from a puny campaign called ‘Peanuts for Benefits’ (yes I don’t suppose you ever heard of it – we only did when a box of peanuts arrived at the Centre) there have been no campaigns whatsoever during the past 2-3 years. Nothing about the Welfare Reform Act, the proposals to make single parents go out to work when their youngest child becomes 7, nothing about the abolition of Incapacity Benefit, the atrocious levels of benefit for single and young people or indeed the introduction of the Local Housing Allowance, aimed at forcing unemployed people to live in the worst housing conditions [at that time, the LHA was linked to the rent of the cheapest 50% of rental properties in any particular category; it will be reduced to the cheapest 30% under the new proposals].The author accordingly offers his resignation, offering a summary of his criticism in an accompanying letter:
«Indeed, I forgot, there is one campaign the Committee have been involved in, The End Child Poverty Campaign, an offshoot of the Child Poverty Action Group. It is a well-meaning charity, which doesn’t like child poverty and it had an ‘event’ in Trafalgar Square back on October 4th 2008. It does a bit of lobbying and persuading, but what it is not is a movement to organise benefit claimants and the unemployed. By its very nature it has nothing to say on the attacks on the unemployed. But having scrapped the annual conference of Unemployed Centres, the Consultative Committee decided that it should organise a conference entitled ‘Ending Povertyism’ with the ECP group, on October 17 2008. Apparently the problem is not so much little things like cutting people’s benefits, sanctions etc. It is the attitude that others have to those living in poverty!
«I therefore decided, having thought about the matter, that there was no purpose to sitting on the NCMUWC, which is controlled by a group called the Unemployed Centres Combine. A group that may not even exist now other than as a collection of assorted individuals, most of whom have spent their adult life in unemployed workers centres and see it as some kind of sinecure.
«One would think that, with unemployment now headed for 3 million, and banks all but toppling over, that the Committee would develop some sense of urgency. Instead it acts as the conscience of the TUC leaders who, more than anything, fear any movement of self-organisation of the unemployed».
«I hardly think it necessary to describe what is happening in the outside world – rapidly increasing unemployment and a concerted attack on the unemployed, coupled with a TUC ‘consultative’ committee that is paralysed into doing nothing and captivated by its own inertia. It has adopted a trappist silence regarding New Labour’s Welfare Reforms, has produced no literature, leaflets or indeed anything of relevance and its only purpose or role would seem to be to preside over the gradual disappearance of a TUC network of unemployed centres».This, then, is the kind of support the unemployed can expect from the Trade Unions Congress. At the 2010 Congress in September 2010 the subject of organisation amongst the unemployed would be relegated to a fringe meeting on Saturday evening (and it appears the National Unemployed Centres Combine, whose existence the author of the article put in some doubt, is alive and well with its representative designated as one of the speakers).
So, whilst the TUC offers a few half-hearted palliatives to the unemployed, whilst at the same time letting its former unemployed workers centres wither away, others see it as a money making opportunity.
Divisions within the Ruling Class
Although there is wide-spread unanimity in the ruling class about the needs for cuts in state spending, it is only the scale of the cuts and how they will be administered that bothers them. And underlying these divisions is the perennial question of who is to make money out of the whole process.
The strategy for dealing with the (now greatly enlarged) unemployed population is a “welfare-into-work” scheme to be managed by private providers. An agreement has been made between the welfare reform and work ministers, Lord Freud and Chris Grayling, and financial institutions in the City of London about the possibility of providing these resources, these agreements being linked to the idea of the private sector deriving revenue on the basis of benefits revenue saved.
The Managing Director of welfare-into-work at G4S, the so-called security and support services group (which provides such private sector services such as moving prisoners between gaols and courts) thinks that a model “that allows investors to provide upfront payments, with the money coming back from the revenue streams as people move into work, is a challenge. But we think it can be made to work.” The private sector, facing contracting markets, is constantly looking for new ways of making money, and smells an opportunity here for doing so by exploiting the most disadvantaged sectors of the proletariat.
And the Treasury’s object of enforcing a 25% cut across most state sector budgets is causing concern across many sectors of the state. Even the Police are worried and are seeking to prove their indispensability by opportunistically unveiling worst case scenarios to frighten the bourgeoisie into backtracking on their recent proposal to cut an estimated 40,000 jobs from the Police force. At the recent Police Superintendents Association the association’s president argued that the Police should be protected from the worst of the cuts because a “strong and confident” Police force will be needed to deal with the rise in industrial and social tension that is likely to arise from the cuts: a tension, we read between the lines, likely to be exacerbated by 40,000 angry unemployed coppers!
And the ‘elephant in the room’ at this conference must surely have been protests called by the Police Federation (the lower ranking police officer’s staff association) a couple of years back; and indeed perhaps even the memory of the riots which occurred during the police strikes following the First World War, after which the police were forbidden from joining a union.
We cannot resist mentioning in this context that during these police strikes it was the army which was brought in to “maintain order” on the streets, but it looks like the armed forces, already significantly reduced, will also be affected by the present cuts; and with the prospect of the auxiliary fire engines, the renowned “Green Goddesses”, used by the army in the past to break Fire Brigade strikes also being phased out, who knows what the future may hold!
In general, where things will go from here is difficult to say, but the TUC has been forced to adopt a slightly more militant face and, along with the insipid measures previously mentioned it has be obliged to declare the necessity for an ill-defined ‘Joint Action’ between the various unions. Such joint action – when and if it happens – will only be effective if it escapes from the control of the union leaders, whose vision, if past experience is anything to go by, is severely restricted by their anticipation of an eventual seat in the House of Lords; by their hefty pay packets; and by a ‘Union Jackist’ outlook which seems unprepared to back any measure incompatible with the interests of the national economy; indeed ‘the country before the class’ seems to be their motto.
The workers, along with the unemployed, in order to launch effective actions, will be forced to transcend job category and work place and build a broader and broader alliance; this alliance (which the names of the big unions ‘Unite!’ and ‘Unison’ hint at but ever fall sadly short of) will eventually have to resort to illegal and wildcat measures and step outside official structures. Only by such means will the proletariat be able to build up sufficient force to act as a class and force the bourgeoisie to relent in its ruthless attacks, testing its strength for the final, inevitable battle with capitalism.
To trade union activists! Long-term Support for the unemployed, sick and disabled can only be provided by defending all members of our class, rather than by passing meaningless resolutions and engaging in publicity stunts. The bosses want a mass of potential workers who are “flexible”, a euphemism for working for next to nothing, and being at the beck and call of employers. The organising of the unorganised is a direct way of protecting those still at work. Look towards defending all the workers, rather than those who are members of the existing trade unions! This way forward is especially important when the public sector is facing whole-scale cuts in the work-force, with many facing the prospect of joining the ranks of the unemployed.
Comrades! Proletarians! Workers, employed and unemployed! State and
private sector workers! Workers from Home and Abroad! Proletarians of all
races! Sick and able-bodied! Unite to resist these cuts! Let the capitalists
bear the consequences of their own crisis!
In Spokane Washington, USA, a stunning union struggle has been taking place with little national attention.
Workers at Ruby Ridge Dairy workers have been laboring under horrendous conditions: workers have had to work 12 hour days without
breaks, drink from the same water barrels as the cows, and put up with abusive language and racial slurs. When finally they could put up with it no longer and demanded fair treatment, the owner, Dick Bengen, confronted them with a gun. This latterday Jay Gould has even been quoted as saying, "This rifle is for those people with the union".
In pursuit of better working conditions, the Ruby Ridge workers approached the the factory creditor, Northwest Farm Credit Services asking them to cut funding until work conditions improved. Having met with no response the United Farm Workers union returned to NFCS with 30,000 signatures. As a result, 12 workers were fired from the dairy, and nothing has been done to help them.
To make a nightmarish situation worse even worse, on February 17 Ruby Ridge Dairy made good on it’s threat to sue 17 workers. This is clearly a campaign of intimidation to frighten the outraged workers into keeping their
mouths shut. The UFW, it must be said, have been highly ineffectual. Although a major union they are beholden to Democratic Party bosses, and have done little to help beyond providing a bit of publicity.
This is further evidence that the workers in the United States, as elsewhere
in the world, will need to rebuild their unions so they are able to effectively
express the class interests of their members. This means fighting to establish
broader and broader connections between different sectors; reaching out
beyond the narrow confines of the factor and the workplace; beyond particular
sectors and regions in order to build once again the ‘one big union’.
But unlike its illustrous predecessor, which forgot that the working class
needs to fight both on the economic and poitical fronts, this class
union will have to accept that the working class has its own political
programme, and its own political party, and the goals of both will only
be obtained when they both work together, and understand each others’
respective roles in the struggle.
At the time of the of the Trattamento di Fine Rapporto (severance pay) ‘reforms’ in Italy, which effectively obliged employees to insure themselves against being laid off, we wrote a commentary entitled: “The TFR swindle: getting the naked to invest”. We could say the same about the so-called health reforms in the United States, recently signed off by Obama, capitalism’s puppet, on 21 March, 2010.
Bourgeois propaganda is pulling out all the stops to convince us that, despite the scale of the crisis, all we need to get us through is democrac; and someone who has the people’s interests at heart, in this case, Barak.
But you only have to scratch the surface to see this bombastic propaganda for what it is: pure hype!
Despite what they say there are already two public welfare systems in the United States which cover around 45% of American health expenditure and which represent around 16% of the USA’s GNP. These two systems, Medicare and Medicaid, provide assistance to around 17 million Americans who are without insurance cover.
Medicare was established under Lyndon Johnson’s administration in 1965 in order to guarantee the federal cover of medical expenses for those 65 years and older, although those under 65 are also covered if they suffer from certain specified illnesses. Medicaid, on the other hand, is administered not by the federal government but by the individual states and is strictly related to income.
According to figures for 2003 from the Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation, the number of employees in that year was 122 million. Out of these, 41 million (21 million part-time, 20 million full-time) had no health cover offered them by their employers, 40 million were offered a choice between two private insurance schemes, and 41 million were offered just one option. All such schemes were chosen by the employer.
The average annual premium for those with families was $9,068. The worker – still 2003 figures – paid out an average monthly sum of $201.
All the company insurance companies provide specific and limited cover for the services they offer and almost always with supplementary charges attached, i.e., in 35% of cases of hospital admissions; in 90% of cases for the cost of medicine and 100% of cases for medical examinations.
More than 40 million employees are not insured, at least not by their employer, and data from the same sources tell us that there are at least 44 million citizens without any kind of health insurance whatsoever.
Even without the most recent figures we can safely say that that amongst the proletariat and under-proletariat, living conditions have significantly deteriorated. Since 2003 the contradictions inherent in the capitalist system of production have shown themselves to be implacable and unrelenting, just as Marxism predicted. In fact, company closures and what the bourgeoisie like to call ‘restructurings’, in other words sackings, have resulted in an exponential growth of the uninsured.
The reform was passed with the support of the fanatical anti-abortionists, who in exchange obtained a United States wide prohibition against the use of federal funds to pay the costs of abortions.
Obligatory insurance has been introduced, and on pain of a fine of around $695 for non-compliance. Those for whom the insurance premiums would cost more than 9.5% of their income will be eligible for a state subsidy of up to $6,000. The program predicts an expenditure of around 940 billion dollars over ten years, 500 billion of which will be recuperated from cuts in funding to … Medicare!
If the average cost of company insurance schemes in 2003 was $9,068 , workers will have to up their payments significantly in order to be able to cover future premiums. It really is a nice gift for the insurance companies. In the new amendment there is a provision for fining companies $2,000 (but only those with 50 or more employees) for each employee who isn’t insured, even though the first thirty won’t be taken into account!
How can we doubt Obama when he tells us: “We are still capable of
Study presented at the party meetings held between May 2003 and May
The Bourgeois Revolution
The Coup d’état of the Free Officers
The Hashemite monarchy in Iraq fell on 14 July 1958, brought down by the coup d’état of a group of army officers.
The causes are summed up well in an article written a few months later by H.G.Martin, a United States General: «The chasm dividing the rich from the poor constituted a perennial incitement to revolt: the cost of living was sky high; students, state employees, workers in industry and the poverty-stricken tenant farmers in the countryside all found themselves in a state of dire need. Communism was very widespread. Hatred of Nuri [the head of government] and the landowners (Arab shaikhs and Kurdish aghast) who made up his party, had by now become a pathological phenomenon. There were also two objects of general execration: the oil agreement entered into on a 50% basis with the Iraqi Petroleum Company in 1952 [according to which the Iraqi State took 50% of the profits with the other 50% remaining in the hands of the companies exploiting the wells] and the adherence to the Baghdad Pact, signed in 1955 by Iraq, Turkey, Great Britain, Pakistan and Iran [which ranged Iraq against Egypt and Syria]» (A Decade of Cold War, in ‘Middle Eastern Affairs,’ March 1959).
There were special features which characterised the Iraqi revolt. Guido Valabrega writes: «Whereas the Egyptian revolution of 1952 could be characterised as a capitulation of the monarchy faced with pressure from the opposition due to its incapacity to resolve the country’s problems, there were aspects to the Iraqi revolution of 1958 which were darker and more violent, more exhilarating and overwhelming» (La rivoluzione araba, 1967).
A few months before the coup d’état, the main parties which were opposed to the monarchy – the Independence Party (Istqual), the National Democratic party, the Communist Party and the Ba’th – had already come together to form a clandestine United National Front. They called for a republic, freedom of association, free elections and freedom from British control, but diverged on a number of fundamental issues, namely, the relationship with the Iraq Petroleum Company and the question of the nationalisation of oil, the agrarian question, trade union freedom and the social question, on international alliances.
But it was not the National Front but a group of army officers (referring to themselves as the Free Officers, after the example of the organisation which had taken power in Egypt a few years before), who early in 1958 would decide to take action under the impetus of the increasing tension in the region, now become a zone of confrontation between the Russian and American imperialist blocs.
Lebanon, which was on the edge of civil war, and Jordan, both of them under Western influence, feared the recent union between Egypt and Syria, the so-called United Arab Republic, approved by Moscow. The Iraqi monarchy, with its strong links to its Jordanian counterparts, had therefore decided to despatch some military units to its Western border, ready to intervene in support of that regime. The troops, stationed in the East of the country, and commanded by the young Colonel ‘Abd al-Salam ‘Arif, a Free Officers supporter, had to go past Baghdad on their way to the Jordanian border. The conspirators took advantage of the situation: the military units instead of bypassing the capital entered it and in a rapid action occupied all the strategic buildings, including the radio station, from where colonel ‘Arif announced the fall of the monarchy and the formation of the Republic.
On 14th July 1958, as the radio broadcast the Marseillaise, in memory of that other 14th July back in 1789 when the people of Paris stormed the Bastille, the troops launched their attack on the royal palace. After a rapid bombardment the Royal Guard surrendered and King Faisal II, the crown prince ‘Abd al-Ilah, and a number of other members of the royal family were arrested and then summarily shot. The Prime Minister, Nuri Said, making his attempted getaway dressed as a woman, was recognised by some soldiers and shot on sight; indeed popular hatred towards this individual was such that his body was taken as a trophy and dragged through the streets of Baghdad by an enraged mob.
To consolidate the coup d’état, and to discourage any foreign intervention, the army officers urged the people to take to the streets to demonstrate against the monarchy and to attack imperialism and its agents. They also called on the parties belonging to the United National Front to mobilise their forces. The masses responded enthusiastically and Baghdad and the other cities in Iraq immediately became the scene of massive street demonstration; some American businessmen and ministers in the Jordanian government were killed and looting and expropriations were massive and widespread.
The Free Officers were alarmed by what they’d unleashed and in the days following the coup d’état a curfew and martial law were introduced. The social situation was so explosive that the new government, which represented the interests of the rising bourgeoisie, found itself immediately having to settle accounts not only with the urban and rural proletariat but also with the still entrenched and powerful class of landowners.
One sure criterion for measuring how radical a bourgeois revolution actually is its agrarian policy: a revolution is all the more widespread and sweeping to the extent it manages to oust the landowning class from power and forcibly impose measures of expropriation of the land, extending possibly even to the transference of ownership to the State. But the bourgeoisie, despite the fact that radical agricultural reforms enormously favour the development of the capitalist system of production, has always proved most circumspect when it comes to attacking the rights of landed property. The fear of a revolutionary process, propelled by the proletariat of city and country, that crosses over into property relations founded on private property and the products of capital, forces the bourgeoisie into a compromise with landed property, its ever dependable ally against the exploited classes.
The new Iraqi government conformed to this general pattern of class rule. It sought the support of the landowners to keep the turbulent proletariat and peasantry in check; hence its polity was extremely moderate, not only in the field of agriculture but also in general as far as both domestic politics and foreign policy were concerned.
By 18th July, it had already declared its preparedness to respect the oil treaties signed by the previous governments whilst the Iraqi representative at the UNO confirmed his country’s adherence to the Baghdad Pact. Two of the fundamental points that had featured in its anti-monarchist propaganda were thus hastily ditched. In the following August the new prime minister, General Qasim, received the American under secretary of state, Bob Murphy, and was able to reassure him that he hadn’t «fought the revolution in Iraq in order to hand over his country to the USSR or Egypt».
Notwithstanding this cautious policy the Anglo-Americans reacted to the coup d’état with force, mainly in order to prevent the revolt from spreading. The 6th Fleet disembarked 10,000 men in Lebanon, a greater force than the entire Lebanese army at the time, whilst the English despatched 2,500 parachutists, the famous ‘Red Devils’, in defence of the ever faithful Jordanian monarchy.
Once the group of revolutionary army officers, headed by Brigadier ‘Abd al-Karim Qasim, had established themselves in power, they passed a new constitution proclaiming the republic and conferring on Qasim the title of prime minister, minister of defence and commander in chief of the army. To Colonel ‘Arif, who had contributed directly to the success of the coup, was entrusted the office of deputy prime minister and minister of the interior; the remaining members of the government were selected mainly from civilians associated with the National Democratic Party.
No member of the Communist Party was co-opted into the government, and Massud Barzani’s Kurdish Democratic party was kept out as well. And yet the reflected credibility gained by association with these two parties, both of which had widespread popular support, was precisely what enabled Qasim to get his political line, based on an exaltation of Iraqi nationalism, accepted. The Iraqi Communist Party was totally opposed to the idea of any approach being made to the UAR, where communists were outlawed and persecuted. The Kurdish party was also opposed the UAR, conscious that the possible transformation of Iraq into a province of a vast state would make the struggle of the Kurdish regions for self-government and independence that much more difficult.
The importance attributed to the Kurdish question by the new government is reflected in the new constitution of 1958, which established that “Arabs and Kurds are associated in the nation,” and their “national rights” are guaranteed within the limits of “Iraqi unity”. This association was symbolised by the new national flag, on which the golden disc of Saladin (who was of Kurdish origin) and the Kurdish curved dagger are united with the Arabic scimitar. Recognition of the Kurds did not however extend much further than that, and the economic situation in the Northern regions continued to be characterised by extreme backwardness and poverty.
«The objective of the national revolution as described by its leaders – writes the historian, Samira Haj – was to free Iraq from the oligarchic monarchy, and from its creator, British imperialism, and reconstruct the nation by promoting social and economic development in the interests of its people. The revolution, representing the ‘will of the people’, had ‘universal’ objectives that transcended class, ethnic, religious and class differences» (The Making of Iraq, 1900-1963, New York, 1997).
Of course this ‘universalist’ program existed only in the minds of the bourgeois ideologues. In practice it could only mean defence of the bourgeoisie and the big landed proprietors at the expense of the proletariat and poor peasant farmers, just as happened during the French Revolution, which although it was fought to the cry of Equality, Liberty, Fraternity culminated in the bourgeois dictatorship and in the anti-proletarian Terror.
Only the Stalinised leaders of the Iraqi Communist Party, who were thoroughly indoctrinated into defending the suicidal theory of ‘revolutionary stages’, wanted to bury their heads in the sand and, despite the severe warning signs (the severity, that is, with which the mass demonstrations had been put down and the way their own party had been excluded from the government), they gave their full support to the new regime. As one of the party’s main leaders, ‘Amer ‘Abdullah, would explain: «Our party supports the economic interests of the national bourgeoisie as fundamental precondition for the development of a bourgeois democratic state (…) The scope of the revolution is to establish social and economic reforms within the framework of capitalist relations of production (…) We consider the revolution to be a popular revolution» (quoted by Ilario Salucci in al-Wathbah Movimento comunista e lotta di classe in Iraq 1924-2003, Milano, 2004).
By pursuing this line the Iraqi Communist Party would not only ensure
its own political suicide, but consign the Iraqi proletariat, bound hand
and foot, into the hands of its tormentors.
Pan-Arabism and nationalism
From its first days in office the new government was faced with certain fundamental questions concerning domestic and foreign policy, and there was a lack of consensus on all of them, even within the small clique that held power.
In domestic policy it was a matter of making decisions about how to achieve agricultural reform; about what relations to maintain with the foreign oil companies; about the fundamental question of freedom of association of parties and trade unions; about what social policy to adopt; and about the thorny question of the Kurdish independence movement.
In foreign policy, once the link with Great Britain was broken, it was a case of choosing, just as the struggle between the super powers for control of the Middle East was becoming more acute, between a pan-Arabist policy, which, in short, would have resulted in union with Egypt and Syria, or a nationalist policy, which aimed to establish Iraq as a regional power by exploiting the possibilities opened up by the clash between the USA and the USSR.
The first rift in the government concerned a question of foreign policy and was between the pan-Arab tendency, backed by the Ba’th Party and by Colonel ‘Arif, who wanted to join the UAR immediately, and the Iraqi nationalist tendency, supported by the liberals, the Communist Party and the Kurdish Democratic Party and defended by General Qasim.
The Minister of the Interior, ‘Abd-al-Salam ‘Arif, was convinced that joining the UAR was the only way Iraq could ensure its survival and, to win support for his ideas, during the turbulent days of August 1958, he set out on a provincial tour seeking to mobilise the poor peasantry, delivering speeches which were as passionate as they were demagogic in support of a “popular, patriotic, socialist republic” which was opposed to any “differences or privileges of rank or power”; he even provoked uprisings amongst the peasants who, no longer prepared to accept their oppression, downed tools to sack and take possession of the shaikhs’ land.
Prime Minister Qasim immediately moved onto the offensive, and supported by the Communist Party – which denounced ‘Arif and his slogans as “driving patriotic social strata into the arms of imperialism” (but which patriotic strata, the landlords’?) – he dismissed the colonel from his government post and sent him off as ambassador to the Federal Republic of Germany. ‘Arif returned in secret to Iraq but was arrested, tried and condemned to death, a sentence later transmuted to life imprisonment.
The Iraqi Communist Party countered the pan-Arab nationalists by appealing to Iraq’s “national peculiarities”. According to this analysis the July revolution was ‘national bourgeois’ and a union with Syria and Egypt (the latter’s industrial development far outstripping Iraq) would be an obstacle to the development of industry and a national capital. In the words of Aziz al-Hajj, a leading official in the Iraqi Communist Party at the time: «It is natural that we oppose a ‘Prussian Style’ union (…) We are for a federal form of unification which guarantees the interests of all classes within each Arab state (…) a unification that takes into account the uneven development of these countries (…) that respects the popular choice of “democratic government”. We are opposed to an anti-democratic union that brings about the growth and expansion of the Egyptian national bourgeoisie at the expense of the workers, the merchants and the capitalists of the other Arab countries. In this period it is natural for us to struggle on the side of the Iraqi national bourgeoisie, supporting its development».
By lining up against the Union the Communist Party facilitated the policy
supported by Moscow, which didn’t look kindly on its still unreliable
ally Egypt becoming to powerful too rapidly. At the same time the party
was turned into an instrument of the narrowest interests of the national
bourgeoisie, thus also preventing the possibility of any kind of regional
solidarity emerging amongst the proletariat. When the divergence with the
pan-Arabists passed onto the terrain of street fighting, the Communist
Party would be the main force suppressing those fighting for the Arab Union
in a series of bloody battles, with repression and expulsion from the trade
unions meted out to those workers who supported it.
The Mosul Rebellion
The struggle culminated in the defeat on the streets of the military revolt which took place in Mosul in March 1959, led by a group of Free Officers of an anti-communist and Pro-Nasser persuasion. It is an episode that offers important lessons about the relations between classes during those months of immense social upheaval.
The commander of the Mosul garrison ordered the troops to disperse a massive rally of the Iraqi Communist Party-inspired Peace Partisans. A section of the army, supported by the populace, disobeyed the order and turned their guns on their officers, triggering the uprising.
It has been observed of the movement that there was a high degree of
correlation between economic, ethnic and religious divisions. For example,
many of the soldiers were not only drawn from the poorest section of the
population but were also Kurds; the officers for the most part belonged
to the Arab middle classes; a lot of the poor peasant farmers in the villages
around Mosul were Aramaic Christians; the big landowners were mainly Arab
Muslims. But when economic divisions didn’t coincide with confessional
or ethnic divisions it was the class factors and not the racial or religious
factors which predominated. Arab soldiers aligned not with Arab officers
but with other Kurdish soldiers; Kurdish clan leaders who were large landowners
aligned with Arab leaders who were large landowners; the rich and long-established
Christian merchant families made no common cause with poor peasant farmers
simply because they were also Christian. When peasant farmers acted on
their own initiative, whatever their ethnic composition, they directed
their anger at the large landowners in an indiscriminate way and regardless
of any political stance. As for the workers and dispossessed of the Arab
quarters, they united with the Kurdish and Aramaic peasant farmers against
the Arab Muslim landowners.
Suppression of the Proletariat
The situation was reckoned to be dangerous in Washington as well and Allen Dulles, the Director of the CIA, described it as “the most dangerous in the world today”. Spontaneously and enthusiastically the great masses rebelled, mobilising and organising themselves within the workers’ unions and the peasant farmers’ associations, and within the women’s and youth organisations. The Communist Party, whose membership in no time at all increased to 25 thousand members, seemed a formidable force, albeit one used to divert this movement into non-revolutionary channels and lead it toward dispersal and defeat. A trap painted red.
«Having effectively contributed to save the regime – writes P.Rondot in his book Irak (Paris, 1979) – the communists were insistent they should take on government responsibilities. The Kurds and the Shiites, who considered the communists their allies, supported these demands». But the Qasim government, despite the Communist Party’s moderate political stance, didn’t want to give the impression it was succumbing to pressure, and nor did it want to fall out of favour with the wealthy classes and the United States further down the line. It therefore decided to mount an offensive against the CP. In May 1959 two articles of the old penal code were reinstated, punishing those who professed communist views with seven years in prison.
The Political Office of the Communist Party, instead of mobilising the lower classes which would have been extraneous to its true nature, continued to seek a compromise. Beating a hasty retreat, it not only ceased the campaign to get its people into government but also withdrew its demand for a more radical reform in the countryside. The Political Office’s decision was endorsed in July by the Central Committee. It is very probable that this clearly self-damaging policy was imposed on it by Moscow, which was worried that the turn of events in Iraq was in conflict with the policy of ‘peaceful co-existence’, which was the slogan it was pushing at the time. The fact remains that this decision marked a decisive shift in the Party towards supporting the government.
This political ‘shift to the right’ didn’t rule out the final struggle but simply postponed it for 4 years, necessary for the total destruction of what the Iraqi working class believed to be its party, this belief being the only reason it was deemed to be a objective danger by the bourgeoisie; 4 years of continuous erosion and decline of the party, of the support it enjoyed in the trade unions and other mass organisations.
The government’s repressive action would be unleashed against the most combative workers and against communist militants, with the two attributes often being combined in the same proletarian individual: and herein lies the worst effect of the Stalinian counter-revolution at the international level. Between July and August 1959 hundreds were arrested, hundreds more killed and across the country anyone suspected of being a Communist Party militant or even a sympathiser risked being intimidated or beaten up. The youth organisation, whose membership had reached 84 thousand by the spring of 1959, and which was controlled by the Communist Party, was dissolved by the police in May 1960 (by which time 20 thousand had already left), who also arrested 200 of its cadres. The League of Iraqi Women and the student federation, also controlled by the Communist Party, met with heavy police repression too. In 1960, six thousand workers’ leaders were sacked from their places of work. But, significantly, the aim of Qasim’s suppression of the communists (which lasted until the Coup d’état that ended his regime in February 1963) was always to weaken and neutralise the social base of the communists, not to actually eliminate the party – indeed its leaders were never hit by the repressive measures.
And yet the Communist Party, despite the suppression it suffered after May 1959, continued to give its unconditional support to the government due to the “need to reinforce national unity and support the current leaders in their efforts to protect the republic”. It even engaged in self-criticism, considering its activity in the spring of 1959 to have been ‘ultra-leftist’. On 7 October 1959 Qasim was wounded in an assassination attempt. On 4 December the Communist Party organised huge demonstrations to celebrate his leaving hospital, issuing the following slogans: “Join hands with the national government to preserve order! More grain to the people, brave peasant! Produce more, valiant worker! Long live the solidarity of the people, the army and the Government under the leadership of ‘Abd-ul-Karim Qasim!”.
Shoulder to shoulder stood the two executioners of the Iraqi proletariat and of the poor peasant farmers: the national bourgeoisie and Stalinism.
In January 1960 the government, which wanted to give the impression of a more open political life, passed a law legalising political parties. Such liberty was however denied to the Communist Party, even though it had accepted all the government’s conditions and changed its programme, its name, and altered the composition of its Political Office. After April 1960, at various times and in various places, the publications of the Communist Party were suspended, and from October 1960 it was forced to suspend publication of its daily newspaper, which had been legalised only a couple of months before.
It is interesting to note, especially today when some view Islamic radicalism as a potential ally in the struggle against imperialism, that although the Qasim government consigned the ‘communists’ to clandestinity, it did allow the constitution of an Islamic party, which «although it was dedicated to the ultimate goal of forming a Islamic order, its hostility to atheism, materialism and communism was very much to the fore, helping to explain its appeal for Qasim at the time» (C.Tripp, A History of Iraq, Cambridge).
The Islamic organisation Al-Da’wa (The Call), which formed around the young ‘alim Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr (father of the al-Sadr who for some months made life difficult for the American marines, before he returned to milder counsels) was an organisation of Shiite Muslims. A few months previously, in the Autumn of 1958, it had come to the attention of the government when it had organised protests against the agricultural reforms, arguing that the sequestration of private property was contrary to the Shari’a. Using this as its pretext, the government agreed to exclude waqf land (religious endowments) from the reforms, thereby further reducing their impact.
In November 1960, ministers close to the Communist Party were forced to resign and the main mass organisations led by the party – the Peace Partisans, the League of Iraqi Youth and the women’s organisation, al-Rabita – were closed down.
In the summer of 1961, the Central Committee of the Iraqi Communist Party, on the initiative its secretary ar-Radi, condemned the positions of the Party ‘right’ (‘Amer ‘Abdallah, who was accused of being Qasim’s ‘agent’, left Iraq and went off to live in Bulgaria). But what resulted from this in practice was just a superficial change, namely, the clandestine publication of the party’s newspaper. On the level of principles there was virtually no change at all. To give an example of this, when Qasim launched the war against the Kurds in September 1961 the Communist Party was a lot more critical of the Kurds than the government, and whilst insinuating that behind that movement there lurked the long hand of imperialism it made not attempt to identify the tasks of the Iraqi proletariat, which had no interest at all in supporting the government’s repressive action.
A brief thaw towards the Communist party would ensue. In 1961 Qasim annulled the concessions to the oil companies in the areas which weren’t already being exploited, and freed all political prisoners. However in May 1962 hundreds were arrested again after a few thousand people had taken part in a demonstration, called by the Communist Party in Baghdad, “for peace in Kurdistan”.
On the eve of the February 1963 Coup d’état, which would erase
the Iraqi Communist Party from the country’s political life, the party’s
membership had already dropped from 25,000 in 1959 to less than 10,000,
of whom 5,000 were from Baghdad. Above all it had lost the enormously strong
positions it had held four years earlier within the youth organisations,
the trade unions, the peasant unions, and within the popular militias created
in the aftermath of the July Revolution.
The agrarian question
In 1958 the situation in the countryside was characterised by extreme concentration of the land into huge landed estates. Out of the 48 million donum under cultivation (one donum = just over half an acre) a good 32 million of them belonged to 168,346 proprietors; a dozen or so shaikhs divided 20% of the South between them. Three quarters of the families living in the country districts, around 4 million people, were landless peasants.
In past years there had been a series of peasant revolts, and one of the first promises made by the new regime in fact was agricultural reform. In many cases the mere announcement was enough to prompt the peasants to occupy the land of the big landowners, to burn down their houses and to destroy the cadastral registers and property contracts. The agrarian question therefore represented the second field of conflict between the various classes and between the various powers that supported the government, and it was certainly the most important.
Despite this situation, which highlights the seriousness of the problem, the reform, which passed into law on 30 September 1958, was largely inspired by the Egyptian agrarian reform of 1952, although it was more moderate in its extent. It was extolled as “The liberation of the peasant”, “the reorganisation of agrarian relations” and “the liquidation of the feudal system”. However, behind the propaganda slogans, the objective toward which the reform tended was not the expropriation, and consequent social disappearance, of the old feudal classes, but their survival and the defence of their interests. It was a means of ensuring they had an easy and painless transition across to the new regime. The medium used was the market. Land would be put up for sale and the market’s relentlessly slow processes would encourage a modernisation of the technical conditions of production and an evolution towards capitalist relations of production and property in the countryside. Certainly such a reform would do nothing to alleviate the poverty of the millions of poor and landless peasants. The land actually confiscated was the least productive and the cost of acquiring it was still beyond the capacity of peasants, who were without capital or credit, and it would bolster instead the section of the peasantry with small and medium-sized holdings. The landless peasants, who were the vast majority, continued to live in poverty and to suffer from still greater levels of exploitation.
To begin with the Communist Party supported the reform – although recognizing its conciliatory nature towards the old landed classes – and still justified it as a ‘necessity’ dictated by the ‘stage’ of the revolution. ‘Amer ‘Abdallah, one of the Communist Party’s theoretician’s, would explain it in the following terms, «we never demanded a radical agrarian reform (…) because we take into consideration the class nature of the national revolution , and the close ties between the national bourgeoisie and the big landed estates and landed property».
The reaction to this was the creation and rapid spread of “peasant’s
associations”, and it is estimated that by May 1959 there were around
3,500 of them. The Communist Party, continuing its deleterious political
practice of abrupt ‘turns’, would now set itself up as the defender
of the interests of the poor and landless peasants and conduct a widespread
campaign against the reform. All of a sudden it took an interest in the
“peasants’ associations”, of which more than 60% would end up under
Stalinist control. Throughout the month of April 1959 there were huge demonstrations,
which the Communist Party took over and provided with slogans. These would
culminate in a huge demonstration on May 1st in Baghdad, attended
by a million people according to the organisers.
A belated bourgeois revolution
The July Revolution brought down the oligarchic monarchy and initiated a period of political change and power struggles.
A common denominator was the ferocity of the struggle against the proletarian movement and its organisations. The power of the class of landed proprietors, the traditional basis of the monarchy, was not broken but merely scaled down and the land question and the problem of the poor peasantry remained dramatically unresolved. The new regime only broke the English monopoly on oil so as to allow a greater number of multinationals to exploit it.
The revolution in Iraq, just like its classic predecessor in France, claimed to have universal objectives which transcended class, religion, and ethnic and other divisions, but in practice it clearly defended, and with the utmost ferocity to boot, the privileges of the new dominant classes, which were no longer those tied to the monarchy, but the bourgeois and landowning classes who pocketed the revenue from the land, the oilfields, and the profits derived from trade and from the still limited industrial network.
Despite its limitations the national revolution would set the whole
of Iraqi society in motion. Relations between individuals and within the
family were revolutionised. Women started to cast off centuries of oppression.
Poor peasants transformed themselves into proletarians and flooded into
the cities. Within a few decades the new Iraq, shaken by a series of bloody
convulsions, would become one of the most powerful states in the area,
a regional power that imperialist diplomacy wouldn’t hesitate to push
into a terrible war with neighbouring Iran in order to cut down the economic,
financial and military power of both.
Caught between nationalism and suppression
The new republican government, headed by General Qasim, pursues a nationalist policy, opposing those, mainly in the armed forces, who want immediate unity with Egypt. It is a choice which expresses the interests of a part of the national bourgeoisie who fear union with the more industrialised and powerful Egypt, and he finds allies in the Communist Party, which in the space of a few months had become an organisation powerful enough to control both the mobilisation of the proletariat in the cities and of the peasantry, and in the parties of Kurdish ethnicity which have traditionally attempted to obtain self-government for the region in the in the North of Iraq.
Qasim would immediately find himself in a very difficult position. After having broken not only with Egypt and Syria, but also with Iran and Kuwait, with whom he’d opened up old territorial disputes, he was totally isolated on the international plane; on the domestic front, his social policy had caused discontent not only amongst the lower classes but amongst the Kurds, who, despite all the promises, had obtained very little from their support for the regime.
This situation would be taken advantage of by Egypt, which we rather neglected in the last report. It would support a new coup d’état, this time organised by the Ba’th party, which voiced a populist program which was not only pan-Arabist but ferociously anti-communist. It seems Egypt’s drive against the Qasim Government had already begun in 1959 when Cairo supposedly provided weapons and political support to the Mosul rebels, in line with Nasser’s general policy of making Egypt leader of the Arab world and obtaining western support by attacking communist organisations both in his own country and throughout the rest of the Middle East.
The historian Anouar Abdel-Malek describes Cairo’s action as follows: «Meanwhile an extremely violent press and radio campaign was directed against Iraq, which was presented as the enemy of Arab nationalism. On 12 September 1958 John Foster Dulles, who on 8 April had already declared that “the United States are in perfect agreement with President Nasser”, announced the resumption of American aid to Egypt with a first instalment of 13 million dollars» (Anoar Abdel-Malek, Esercito e societá in Egitto 1952-1967, 1967).
On 7 October 1959 a Ba’thist military cell, to which the young Saddam Hussein belonged, made an unsuccessful attempt on Qasim’s life. Saddam Hussein fled to Syria and from there to Egypt, «where the Egyptian secret services warned Nasser about the young Iraqi’s contacts with the American ambassador» (Pierre Jean Luizard, La Questione Irachena, 2003).
Meanwhile the Kurdish question was likewise forcing itself onto the agenda. In June 1961 the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) issues a series of demands to the government which responds with repressive measures: Kurdish newspapers are closed down and there are numerous arrests. This triggers a Kurdish uprising which is soon transformed into an all out war; a long, harsh and inglorious war that would impact negatively on the morale of the Iraqi army and result in a significant reduction in the support Qasim enjoyed within the armed forces.
As we have seen, the Qasim government, in order to restrict the Communist Party’s influence, had tried to gain the support of the Muslim Brotherhood. It now forced the communist ministers to resign from the government.
We can hardly fail to admire the courage with which the militant communists and the proletariat in Iraq threw themselves into the fray, often in opposition to their political leadership, in a ferocious confrontation with the repressive apparatus of the bourgeoisie; and we can likewise hardly fail to be struck by the depth and profundity of the violence which characterises the class struggle in this country, where the hangman, the firing squad and torture chamber are considered the normal means of silencing opposition.
Western commentators, whether of the liberal or social democratic persuasion,
attribute these repressive methods to a lack of democratic and ‘party’
traditions, to a lack of a correct ‘democratic dialectic’, in a word,
to the country’s political ‘backwardness’. We think, on the contrary,
that radical political struggle is a characteristic of societies in which
a young, energetic and numerous proletariat represents an objective menace
to ruling classes which have extremely little to offer the very masses,
but who have nevertheless been forced to mobilise those same masses in
their effort to shake off, at least partly, the yoke imposed on them by
imperialism. The open dictatorship is therefore a characteristic feature
of modernity; the mirror image of a proletarian vitality that the Western
proletariat, lulled asleep for decades by the soporific action of opportunism,
is sorely lacking.
On February 8th 1963, a coup d’état, supported by the CIA they say, overthrows the Qasim government. The Communist Party issues a call to mobilise with the slogan “To arms! Crush the reactionary and imperialist conspiracy!” On the same day demonstrations take place in the main towns and cities but Qasim refuses to distribute arms to the people. The army, which from the outset had aligned itself with the organisers of the coup, opens fire on the demonstrators who for the most part are armed only with wooden staffs, and there are hundreds of casualties. On the following day all resistance is broken, leaving a few isolated pockets, particularly in Basra, who fight on until the 12th. Qasim surrenders and is summarily shot. ‘Abd-al-Salam ‘Arif, the ex ‘number 2’ of the July 1958 revolution, becomes the new head of State.
The ‘National Council of the Revolutionary Command’, the organisation that takes power, states in its ‘Proclamation no. 13’, «The commanders of the military units, the police and the National Guard are authorised to annihilate anyone who disturbs the peace. The loyal sons of the people are asked to cooperate with the authorities by providing them with information and by exterminating these criminals». Between the 8th and 10th of February, during the first days of the coup d’état, between 1,500 and 3,000 people are killed, amongst them at least 350 communists. The city districts where the resistance had been stiffest are treated as enemy territories and subjected to mass executions, indiscriminate arrests, massacres and rapes.
Looking back on these days, al-Hajj, the future leader of the left of the Communist Party, would state that resistance to the coup d’état had been a “glorious” act by the party, which would “save it politically”, whereas the real ‘error’ had been committed in 1958-63, when the «entire strategy of our party was based on an erroneous principle, which held that rather than starting a civil war we should avoid it at all costs. At the same time other forces (…) were sharpening their knives, waiting for the best moment to slaughter us». Even admitted that the proletariat should have fought in defence of the bourgeois government, the Communist Party didn’t in fact prepare for armed resistance in 1963 either. The reality is, the conscious aim of the bourgeois workers’ parties is to ensure their own defeat and dispersal, dragging along behind them a betrayed and deceived proletariat.
In the coalition that takes power the Ba’th is the predominant element, even though in February 1963 it was still a small organisation. Both the prime minister, Ahmad Hasan al-Bakr, and the deputy prime minister and minister of the interior, ‘Ali Salih al-Sa’di, are members of the Ba’th. The latter is also the general secretary of the party, and the real government real strong man since he personally controls the National Guard, the party’s paramilitary force which heads the repression, and which within the space of a few months had enrolled 30,000 men.
Over the course of following months the anti-communist repression is extremely vicious. Not a single Communist party structure in Arabic Iraq manages to withstand it. The Secretary General ar-Radi is arrested on 20 February and dies following four days of torture. The two secretaries who succeed him, Jamal al-Haidari and Muhammad Salih al-Aballi, are arrested on 21 July and executed. Over the course of 1963 seven members of the Central Committee (out of a total of nineteen) are killed. There are 150 ‘legal’ executions of communists, but many more are killed ‘illegally’. In November 1963 there are 7,000 communists in prison. The party’s less accountable members try to save as many militants from the repression as possible, getting them out of the cities into the countryside or to Kurdistan. For a year and a half the party’s activity is virtually non-existent. The blow suffered by the Communist Party in 1963 is even harsher than the one that would hit it in 1949.
The ba’thist-military coalition might have been efficient when it came to anti-worker repression but it was nevertheless very unstable and was wrought by internal divisions. Batutu describes the government structure of this period with the words of Dostoyevsky: “nothing’s easier than cutting off heads, and nothing’s harder than to have an idea”.
«The Ba’th Party’s advocacy of pan-arabism and social welfare under the slogan ‘Freedom, Unity, Socialism’ had always allowed for wide interpretation and in Iraq, as elsewhere, people joined the Ba’th Party for a variety of reasons. Consequently, the Iraqi section of the Ba’th comprised a number of disparate factions» (C.Tripp, A History of Iraq, 2nd edn, p.172).
The Nasserites present in the government are removed as early as May 1963. Iraq breaks with Egypt in July. The war in Kurdistan, following a brief period of truce, is resumed in June (with the Communist Party this time supporting the Kurd forces and in July attempting a coup de main (which fails) on the country’s main military base at ar-Rashid). The Ba’th itself splits; in October, at its national (pan Arabic) congress, the “left wing” prevails, rallying behind slogans advocating “socialist planning”; “a collective agriculture managed by the peasants”; “democratic workers control of the means of production”, and “a party based predominantly on the workers and peasants”. In Iraq the “left wing” is represented by al-Sa’di, who suddenly proclaims himself a ‘Marxist’. Aligned with him are the National Guard, the Student Federation and the General Union of Workers.
This situation alarms the army officers and the ‘right wing’ of the Ba’th, represented by the head of the government, al-Bakr. From 11 to 18 November Iraq is in chaos. Army officers intervene, weapons in hand, at the Iraqi Ba’th congress to impose a ‘rightist’ direction. Al-Sadi is sent off into exile in Madrid, but ‘leftist’ Ba’th army officers try to resist and bombard the ar-Rashid military base. The streets are in the hands of ‘leftist’ Ba’th militants and the National Guard. The General Union of Workers issues a call for the execution of those bourgeois who are sending their capital abroad and calls for the immediate socialisation of the factories and for the collectivisation of agriculture.
On 18 November there is another uprising orchestrated by the President, ‘Abd al-Salam ‘Arif and his brother, brigadier-general ‘Abd-al-Rahman ‘Arif. Army divisions attack the headquarters of the National Guard and control is quickly re-established in Baghdad.
In the preliminary phase, from November 1963 to February 1964, the bloc in power is a coalition of armed forces officers personally faithful to ‘Arif, along with Ba’thist and Nasserist military men. In a second phase, from February to August 1964, it is the Nasserist military men who predominate at the apex of the State whilst their Ba’thist colleagues are chased out of the centres of power (and respond with a failed coup). It is in this period that a joint Presidential Council with Egypt is announced. In addition it is decided that a new State sponsored political party, along the lines of Egypt’s Arab Socialist Union, would be formed. There are decrees in July1964 to nationalise the banks, insurance companies and leading industrial and commercial companies with 25% of profits to be distributed to the workers. The Nasserist army officers demand a foreign trade monopoly but come up against the flat refusal of their allies. This prompts a split with the officer corps who are faithful to ‘Arif, who in August take power on their own.
A third phase extends from August 1964 to the accidental death of Abd-al-Salam ‘Arif on13 April 1966. It is a period that is characterised by the presence in power of a group with a conservative nationalist orientation that attempts, in a situation of economic chaos, and with massive flights of capital abroad and large-scale redundancies, to go into partial ‘reverse gear’ with respect to the measures adopted by the Nasserists in the Spring of 1964. Another failed coup d’ état also occurs during this period.
On the death of Abd-al-Salam ‘Arif he is succeeded by his brother, ‘Abd-al-Rahman ‘Arif. The latter remains in power, continuing his brother’s policy, until July 1968, when he is deposed by the Ba’thist coup d’état and forced into a gilded exile in Great Britain.
In the years following the tragic upheaval of the 1963 coup d’état, the suppression of the Communist Party would ease up to a certain extent, allowing a slow reconstruction of the party to take place. The party’s governing body, until the summer of 1964, is the “External Committee for the organisation of the Communist Party”. Its members live in the countries of Eastern Europe from whence they denounce Arif’s regime as a “reactionary military dictatorship”.
The cease-fire agreement with the Kurds in February 1964, the events in Egypt (release of communist detainees, establishment of strong links with the USSR, discussions about auto-dissolution of the two Egyptian communist parties and their merger with Nasser’s single party, the Arab Socialist Union) and the switch to Nasserism in Baghdad (with nationalisations and an improvement in relations with the USSR, which starts supplying arms to Iraq again) prompt an unprincipled Communist Party, which is passively obedient to Moscow, to make an abrupt political turn in August 1964. The Central Committee, after a clandestine meeting in Baghdad, adopts the new, so-called ‘August line’, which describes even Egypt as a country that “is situated on the road of non-capitalist development headed toward socialism”. This prompts the party to reconsider its position on Arab unity, with an open self-criticism of the policy it had adopted regarding this between 1958-63: «It is wrong (…) for communists to cling to political democracy as the condition for supporting Arab unity (…) [the latter must be seen] in the light of the phenomenon of the non-capitalist development and social advance that enriches the progressive content of Arab Unity».
This new policy fully conforms to Moscow’s directives at that time. In La storia segreta del KGB by C. Andrew and O. Gordievski, we read: «In the early ‘60s Khruschev and the Moscow Centre, but not the entire Presidium, were persuaded of the existence of a ‘new correlation of forces’ in the Middle East which had to be exploited to fight the ‘main enemy’ [the USA]… The soviet ideologues came up with the terms ‘non-capitalist road’ and ‘revolutionary democracy’ to define the intermediate stage between capitalism and socialism reached by some leaders in the Third World. Nasser’s decision, in 1961, to nationalise a large part of Egyptian industry furnished encouraging proof of his progress along this ‘non-capitalist road’».
They are the same terms used by the leadership of the Iraqi Communist Party, which did nothing other than slavishly imitate Moscow’s ‘new’ policy. The coup d’état of November 1963 is re-evaluated, and retrospectively deemed to have been a positive; as something which «banished the nightmare of the fascist regime and the National Guard (…) and created more favourable conditions for the struggle of the anti-imperialist forces to preserve national independence, to alter Iraq’s official political line and to get the country to rejoin the path to Arab liberation”. The political upshot of the new ‘turn’ was that “if we admit the possibility of Iraq developing along non-capitalist lines, from this it inevitably follows that we must not address our policy towards the conquest of power by our party: we must remain in the vanguard, but there are forces that are gradually adopting our objectives (…). At the present stage the best government in Iraq would be a coalition of all the patriotic forces which are fighting for complete emancipation and for social progress».
According to left critics in the party, «cooperation with Cairo was seen (…) as the key to any revolutionary development in Iraq (…) and therefore the party’s practical policies were subordinated to the will of Cairo and its partisans in Baghdad». But of course that wasn’t all; by now the upper echelons of the party had long since reneged on every principle of revolutionary Marxism.
The August 1964 Plenum of the Central Committee elects a new Central Committee , partly in Iraq, partly abroad, and the new party secretary, Aziz Muhammed (“Mu’in”, “Nadhim ‘Ali”).
The “August line” prompts outrage amongst party militants, who rightly deemed the new party line as support to those “whose hands are dripping with the party’s and people’s blood”. Very frequently the party’s rank-and-file groupings would ignore the CC’s instructions and act on their own initiative. The rank-and-file moves progressively to the left, and the leadership – after having unsuccessfully tried to impose the new line by disciplinary means – finally effectuates a new ‘turn’ in the spring and above all in the autumn of 1965, resulting, we are sure, in no small amount of bewilderment amongst militants.
With the definitive disappearance of the Nasserist elements from the government and the resumption of the war in Kurdistan, the Communist Party leadership adopts the slogan of “violent struggle” to overthrow ‘Arif’s “dictatorial regime” and “for a provisional Government of National Coalition to include all patriotic and anti-imperialist groups (…) to institute parliamentary, constitutional life”. It calls on Nasser to reconsider his relations with the ‘Arif government because of the latter’s readiness to lay itself open to the influence of English imperialism and the oil monopolies.
From October 1965 the Communist Party maintains a hostile position towards Abd-al-Salam ‘Arif ‘s government, and then towards his brother’s government, despite both of them having been approved by both Moscow and the Lebanese Communist Party. But it is only in February 1967 that the Communist Party decides to form small armed units, both mobile and static, in the rural areas and in a number of cities, and to start a limited guerrilla war.
Naturally this superficial radicalism is not enough to maintain party unity, On 17 September 1967 a significant part of the organisation, which had been fighting to ‘democratise’ the internal life of the party, would split off to form the Iraqi Communist Party (Central Command). The I.C.P. (Central Command) refuses to align itself with China or with the USSR and defends the necessity of arming the masses and of the popular armed struggle in the cities and the countryside. Their ambiguous objectives include: a “revolutionary democratic popular regime under the leadership of the working class”; “revolutionary Arab unity with a socialist content” and support for “the destruction of the State of Israel and the creation of an Arab-Jewish democratic state”.
In February 1969 everyone in the Political Office is arrested. Two die under torture whilst the other three (including the secretary al-Hajj) agree to collaborate with the Ba’th, denouncing their comrades and conducting public interviews in support of the Ba’th (later on al-Hajj would carve out a successful career for himself in the diplomatic corps, obtaining a posting in Paris).
The I.C.P (Central Command) takes a year to re-build its organisation, and only in the Kurdish areas, where it would establish a “strategic alliance” with Barzani’s KDP, the only Kurdish nationalist organisation in existence at the time.
The Kurdish defeat in 1975 would also bring about the ruin of the I.C.P.
(Central Command). Its five main leaders are arrested and executed in Sulaimaniyya;
a blow from which this group would never recover. Many militants withdraw
from political activity and the few surviving units had disbanded by the
end of the ‘70s.
The suicidal tactic of the United Front
Following the split, the official Communist Party, known after 1967 as the I.C.P (Central Committee) to distinguish it from the secessionist I.C.P. (Central Command), calls an emergency national conference (the third in its history) in December 1967, where it reaffirms the policy of building democratic United Fronts with the aim of forming a coalition government to replace ‘Abd-ur-Rahman ‘Arif’s government. Despite the conference confirming its faith in the USSR and Egypt, Moscow doesn’t support the policy and responds two months later by closing down the ‘Voice of the Iraqi People’, the Communist Party’s radio station transmitting from Prague via booster stations in Bulgaria.
On 17 July 1968 the Ba’th and the armed forces carry out yet another coup d’état and Abd-ur-Rahman ‘Arif is forced into exile, replaced by Ahmad Hasan al-Bakr. Many of Arif’s collaborators take part in the coup d’état and remain in post, but only for a matter of weeks; indeed only a few days later, on 30 July, another coup d’état eliminates Arif’s long term allies and leaves the men of the Ba’th in sole charge. The latter, organised in a Revolutionary Command Council, retain all powers, leaving the nominated government to perform exclusively administrative tasks. This power structure will endure over the ensuing decades. Apart from al-Bakr, the new strong man that emerges is Saddam Hussein. Throughout the chaotic 1970s he manages to manoeuvre himself into a key position within the Revolutionary Command Council by eliminating all potential competitors. In February 1979 he forces al-Bakr to resign and takes over as head of State.
The Ba’th immediately seeks support from the I.C.P (Central Committee), going on to release a few political prisoners in September 1968 and offering ministerial posts to the communists. Initially the I.C.P (Central Committee) turns them down, declaring as the condition for their support peace in Kurdistan, a constituent assembly and the reestablishment of civil liberties (legalisation of political parties, democratic elections, etc), but in the Spring of 1969 (when the Ba’th signs important oil deals with the USSR) it opens negotiations with the Ba’th, which allows the legal publication of the Communist Party ‘monthly magazine of general culture’, al-Thaqafa al Jadida, and calls on the Communist Party to participate in a “National Patriotic Front”.
Negotiations continue until the spring of 1970 when it is the Ba’th who break off relations, proceeding to make hundreds of arrests and to ‘discretely’ murder various well-known communists, or arrange their ‘disappearance’. In September 1970 the Communist Party holds the 2nd Congress in its history, still in secret, in Iraqi Kurdistan. The final documents recognise the ‘positive’ action of the Ba’th on the economic and social fronts, and acknowledge its ‘anti-imperialist and anti-Zionist’ positions but still denounce the absence of ‘democratic freedom’. Relations are re-established in the autumn of 1971, and then strengthened following the nationalisation of the Iraq Petroleum Company and the ‘solid strategic alliance’ concluded between Baghdad and Moscow.
Throughout this period (1968-72), the Ba’th uses a carrot and stick approach in its relations with the Communist Party, alternating open co-operation with violent repression, both overt and covert. A common practice was to arrest ordinary militants, subject them to torture in the police stations and then release them a few days later, but there was no lack of cases of leaders being murdered as well, even during periods of ‘negotiation’ and ‘openness’.
During the same period, the Ba’th government would: enact a new agrarian reform far more radical than anything the Communist Party had demanded up to that point; enact a Labour Code establishing the social rights of workers (but severely restricting the right to strike and prohibiting free trade-union organisation) ; nationalise the Iraq Petroleum Company; introduce a monopoly in Foreign Trade; sign a treaty with the USSR; adopt an “anti-imperialist and anti-Zionist” international position and provide support to some of the currents within the Palestinian movement.
In April 1972 the Communist Party declared that “recent developments have marked a turning point in the popular struggle” and it declares itself disposed to enter the National Patriotic Front. The following month two communists (one of whom, predictably, is Amer ‘Abdallah) are appointed to the cabinet. But it is only in 1973 that the Communist Party finally enters the Front by signing the National Action Charter, and the party and its daily newspaper are legalised.
1972-3 marks the beginning of a period in which the Communist Party depicts Saddam Hussein as a kind of Iraqi Fidel Castro, as the Ba’th’s “man of the left”, the one who is closest to the communists. In February 1974 the Communist Party dissolves all of its independent (and still illegal) organisations in the workplace. In the four years after 1972 the Ba’th fully exploit this communist acquiescence and acquire almost total control over the trades unions, the peasant unions and the other mass organisations.
The Communist Party supports all the Ba’th’s initiatives, including the bloody war against the Kurds in 1974-5, but it is actually the agreement with Iran (the Algiers Agreement), enabling the defeat of the Kurdish forces, which gives Saddam Hussein the strength and security to launch an attack on his Communist Party allies, on whom he is no longer so dependent. Towards the end of 1975 communist militants are being arrested once again, and the activities of the Communist Party start to be severely curtailed from the spring of 1976.
In May 1976 the party holds its third congress in Baghdad. On the one hand it reaffirms the classic position whereby «the national-democratic revolution has entered a new progressive stage, the non-capitalist stage of development», on the other it emphasises «that capitalist relations of production are expanding in the countryside and that on the non-capitalist road (as distinct from the period of transition to socialism) private capital carries a lot of weight and could cause a retrogressive situation, drawing the country back into a dependence on imperialism». The Egyptian example of this, with Sadat suddenly breaking off of all relations with the USSR, had occurred a few years before. The congress also took a position, although adopting a ‘constructive’ and conciliatory tone, against the restrictions put on its political freedom and for a return to the original arrangements within the Front, and against the dissolution of the communist led mass organisations (the Democratic Youth Federation, General Federation of Students and the Women’s Association).
This would prompt a new anti-communist propaganda campaign by the Ba’th which became increasingly violent. At the beginning of 1978 it is clear that a new break between the Communist Party and the Ba’th is only a matter of time. In March 1978 it is announced that 12 communists had been executed for conducting political activity within the armed forces, and in May 1976 a law is passed making any non-Ba’thist political activity by any member or ex-member of the armed forces a capital offence. In the summer and autumn, torture, arrests and executions follow.
The final break, marking the Communist Party’s passage to clandestinity, occurs in April 1979. The Central Committee approves a document which demonstrates a conscious wish to self-destruct, just at a time that the most combative workers in the unions find themselves, yet again, on the edge of the abyss: «Our party has fought with all the means at its disposal to prevent this country plunging into crisis. Out of an exalted sense of responsibility to the people, it has made great efforts to persuade the government to adopt a policy which corresponds to the people’s interests (…) The bloody violence our party has encountered reflects the Ba’th leaders’ apprehension about the existence of a Communist Party (…) that exercises its own political and ideological independence (…) All the arguments invented by the Ba’th leaders to justify their criminal campaign against our party have failed, registering for them a political and moral defeat, whilst at the same time party unity, and the party’s position amongst the masses has been consolidated».
Faced with a new wave of repression following those of 1949 and 1963, all the Central Committee does is vindicate the ideal ‘political and moral’ defeat of its enemy, whilst failing to provide any criticism of the suicidal policy it had pursued up to that point!
For the third time, following 1949 and 1963, legions of combative worker are cut down by the forces of repression; a repression, moreover, conducted with greater precision than before. In Arab Iraq not a single proletarian organisation remains. The Communist Party manages to maintain its presence in Iraqi Kurdistan alone, as was the case with the I.C.P (Central Command) in its day, to whose manu militari destruction the Communist Party had itself contributed in its capacity as Ba’th ally. Between 1978 and 1981 it is estimated there were between 20 and 30 thousand arrests and hundreds of communists ‘disappeared’, or were ‘legally’ executed.
The violent subjugation of the rural and city proletariat would allow the Iraqi bourgeoisie, having discovered its sanguinary ‘administrator’ in the person of Saddam Hussein, to stabilise its power base by strengthening its commercial relations with the East and the West; by accumulating massive fortunes through the sale of oil; and through its attempts to go down the road of forced industrialisation. Meanwhile it would continue to strengthen the army, both as an agent of internal repression and as an instrument to extend its sphere of influence beyond its frontiers.
On this bloody path, with proceeds from the sale of the black gold,
the Saddam Hussein clique would entrench itself in power.
The point of departure: Servants and Slaves
The story of the American labour movement, or, to be precise, of the labour movement in the United States, starts in the colonial period, at the time of the birth and development of those first settlements that would later evolve into colonies, and which at the end of the XVIII century would free themselves from the mother country.
It is important not to forget that the society founded on the western shores of the Atlantic Ocean had behind it a social, economic and political history that it shared with the countries of the Old World, and in particular with England, which had emerged from the Middle Ages quite a while before, creating the social and political foundations for the development of bourgeois society and for the establishment of the capitalist system. These foundations were the Reformation, the dissolution of the monasteries, the enclosure of the common land, the development of the mercantile bourgeoisie and the rise of the country as a commercial and maritime power. Thus the American Colonies were populated by colonists who had already left the legacy of the Middle Ages behind them, and an entirely un-mediaeval atmosphere predominated there. The founders of the colonies, above all in New England, incarnated the most unscrupulous aspect of the English bourgeoisie, which precisely in those years was preparing to deal the final blow to the old absolutist and monarchist regime.
One of the reasons the English Crown favoured the colonisation of North America in the 16th and 17th centuries was certainly as an outlet for the surplus population and in order to alleviate the social tensions arising from poverty and unemployment, which in their turn were a by product of the development of society in a bourgeois direction. As far back as 1576 Sir Humphrey Gilbert had favoured colonisation as a means of alleviating demographic pressure. Others would portray it as a means of getting rid of ‘undesirable elements’.
The composition of the colonies was therefore very heterogeneous. Apart from the band of puritans referred to in the history books (concentrated mainly in New England) there was a conspicuous number of criminals, prisoners and of every other conceivable type of refugee from the law. To these was offered the possibility of escaping justice by emigrating to America, but on arrival in the New World they were expected to pay the cost of their transatlantic passage with their labour. This possibility of acquiring extremely low cost labour attracted the attention of many rich English families who moved to America with the intention of acquiring land and benefiting form this labour.
In fact, it soon became clear to everybody that none of the riches discovered by the Spanish in Mexico and Peru existed in the in the area in which the English were staking their claim. Captain John Smith would write: “Nothing is to be expected thence but by labour”. Thus the profits to which the English investors aspired would be obtained by cutting down forests and cultivating the soil rather than from mining. America would bring great profits, wrote the Virginia Company in 1616-17 to prospective investors, in the measure that ‘more hands’ were made available.
But where would these hands come from? The Indians could be captured and forced to work as slaves but escaping was easy, and in such cases they had the unpleasant habit of returning to their tribes and returning to remove their former master’s scalp in lieu of severance pay. Hence the governor of New Amsterdam (the city founded by the Dutch, which later became New York after passing to the English Crown) issued an order, much to the displeasure of those who hoped to gain massive profits in double-quick time, that native Americans had be paid a salary.
Thus there commenced a propaganda campaign amongst European workers (there weren’t enough convicts) conducted mainly in the British Isles but also in Germany, where William Penn, the magnate who would found Pennsylvania, would go on his preacing tour. In fact enticing people to leave wasn’t that difficult: in England in the 1600s most workers were living in the direst poverty, in conditions which were as desperate as much from the health point of view as from hunger, which perpetually haunted them. The worker was also subject to laws which, in substance if not in form, treated them like slaves: there was a maximum but no minimum wage; the worker wasn’t allowed to abandon his employer at will, and there were stringent penalties for ‘vagabondage’, that is to say, the measures directed against those peasants who, deprived of their land, hadn’t immediately flocked in to join the city slums; and, of course, it was strictly forbidden to ‘conspire’ with other workers to defend oneself against the rapacity of the employers. In the other European countries capitalism was less developed, but continuous wars, big and small, made life just as unpleasant over most of the continent.
Therefore the propaganda was lent a willing ear. The cost of the voyage, however, at £.6 to £.10, represented an enormous sum for a proletarian and it was simply too much. Thus there developed the system of contract servitude known as indentured labour. By this means the individual who embarked for the New World would serve as a bonded labourer for a number of years, usually from two to seven, but generally the latter. During this time he would receive no pay and was prohibited from abandoning his place of work. He did however have the right to be fed and lodged and to receive an indemnity at the end of his service, supposedly enough to start a new independent life when the contract expired, and even enable him, maybe, to go out and exploit indentured labour himself. That was the theory anyway but the reality wasn’t quite so rosy. One study shows that only 20% of indentured servants actually managed to settle a piece of land or become an artisan. None of them struck it rich because the all of the wealth was flowing into the hands of the big landowners and merchants, and it was they who became richer and richer during the colonial period. The other less fortunate 80% might simply die (many of them), return to England or else end up amongst the mass of poor whites, who lived from hand to mouth, sleeping where they could, without property (and therefore without a vote), and without any prospects.
The contracts were drawn up at the point of embarkation and retained by the ship’s captain, who sold them on arrival in America to recuperate the cost of the voyage and to derive an ample profit. To take advantage of this business companies soon set up branches in the two biggest settlements on the East coast, namely, the Massachusetts Company of New England, run by puritans who soon made it independent from London, and the Virginia Company, which instead continued to depend directly on the mother country. The puritans of Massachusetts, who were anxious to preserve their community’s religious and moral purity, were suspicious of this influx of people of not always exemplary morality; besides which it was mainly free men, who could afford the cost of their passage, who went by preference to New England. Indentured labour, on the other hand, was the principal source of labour pwoer in the Centre (New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania) and particularly in the South (the colonies of Virginia and Maryland to begin with, then the Carolinas), at least until the end of the 17th century.
Another aspect of the journey about which the emigrants were generally ignorant concerned the voyage itself; like the slaves making a similar, if longer, journey in identical ships many would die before reaching their destination. Conditions below decks were terrible, and amongst the things that had to be contended with were terrible hygiene, excessive promiscuity, sickness, food that was rotten and inevitably in short supply, and contaminated water. Survivors would tell how to keep from starving they had to eat mice and rats, which were bought and sold on board ship. There were even cases of cannibalism on journeys that turned out to be longer than expected. And on top of it all the survivors were often compelled to pay the travel costs of their deceased shipmates, paying the ship’s captain in the form of additional years of service.
Emigration to the New World guaranteed a constant flow of English paupers along with a lesser number of Germans, Irish and other nationalities. By 1770, along with half a million African slaves, a quarter of a million indentured servants had arrived in America and at least 100,000 of them had been transported against their will (either as convicts or kidnapped in their home port, the latter often children, who were captured in the cities of Great Britain in much the same way as the slaves in Africa, who would end up dying like flies). This means that at the time of the War of Independence out of the 2.5 million inhabitants, most of whom were farmers, the vast majority of the labour force was unfree. In the South, slaves soon replaced white servants: they didn’t go off when their contracts expired (nor would they have known where to go) and they cost half as much to maintain.
This wasn’t actually the case to begin with. Even if brought to America by force, it seems that the Africans as well were also indentured servants, freed when their contract expired. Thus the number of free Africans in the South was by no means insignificant even before the Civil War. Only around 1660 did the Slave Codes start to take effect in various colonies, laws which transformed servants into slaves: henceforth children born to slaves became the property of the mother’s owner, and for two centuries the slaves were deprived of their rights as free men (to meet and to vote, standing as witness, freedom of movement, right to bear arms, etc).
Mind you, the white servants weren’t much better off, on the contrary, some maintain that their situation was even worse. In fact a master, who was interested in keeping his slaves healthy since they constituted his capital and would remain such for the rest of their lives, might not be interested in the health of his servants, who would sooner or later leave; and for whom, if crippled, blind or ill on the expiry of their contract, the master wasn’t held responsible. A similar destiny, by the way, might easily befall those apprentices who, ending up with a greedy or cruel master, were exposed to dangers, harsh punishments and malnutrition and might not even end up learning a trade. Servants who married without their master’s permission were punished as adulterers, and their children deemed to be bastards.
From the 18th century onwards, England, whose incredible economic ascent had begun, put severe restrictions on emigration to ensure there was sufficient manpower for its own nascent manufacturing industry. Thus, throughout the 1700s, waves of immigrants from Scotland, Ireland, Germany and Switzerland, including significant numbers of skilled craftsmen, would supplement the Anglo-Saxon elements disembarking on the Atlantic coast. In general, a new system of servitude known as the ‘redemptioner’ system was used. This was characterised by variable lengths of service according to the servant’s qualifications and skills, the nature of the job and related to the consequent length of time required to accumulate the sum necessary for him to redeem himself from servitude. These variations meant many different types of servant would arise with an overall tendency toward prolongation of the duration of contracts (often because many of these emigrants brought their families with them) but without altogether ruling out the possibility, which had attracted so many of these emigrants in the first place, that one day they would own a piece of land and be able to work it on their own account.
Without the system of bonded labour, however arbitrary and harsh it may have been, the colonies in the Centre and the South would have found it very difficult to get properly established.
At the mercy of their masters, who could be extremely cruel, servants would often abscond, whites and blacks frequently running off together to live with the nearest Native American tribe. The chronicles also tell of organised revolts by white servants, such as the one in Virginia in 1661-62 and the famous Bacon Rebellion, also in Virginia, in 1676, when the rebellion would include white servants, slaves and emancipated slaves, and small farmers. At least 40 revolts have been documented during the colonial period alone. Of these both the one around Charleston in 1730, which was particularly widespread, and the Stono Rebellion nine years later, also in the Charleston area, were both slave revolts. In the course of the latter, more than 200 slaves burned down houses and killed various slave-owners, sparing only those who had treated them decently. They had managed to obtain firearms, but before their march to freedom – which they sought in Florida – was concluded, they were overpowered and massacred by the white militia. This rebellion would endure long memory of the Southern slave holders giving them sleepless nights for many years to come.
Despite the laws outlawing them, there are numerous reports too of these labourers going on strike to obtain better living and working conditions. It was common for the white semi-slaves to run away; the punishment, along with flogging and other physical punishments, was an extension of their period of servitude. In the case of a revolt, which also occurred in the North (notably the one in New York in 1741, in which blacks and whites fought side by side) repression was ruthless. But brutal repression and exemplary punishments didn’t remove the danger of insurrections, which arose out of the real conditions of these first forced proletarians, and some concessions would eventually be made around food and clothing, etc. In the North, in any case, where slavery had never really suited the bourgeoisie, fear of slave revolts spread to all classes and many began to propose that slaves be substituted with free workers.
In Virginia, on the other hand, where forced labour suited the planters very well, the constant fraternisation of these workers across the divide of skin colour began to be viewed as extremely worrying, and they decided to take measures to combat it. In 1705 a law was passed that notably improved the condition of the white servant, the main measure being an improvement in the endowment the master had to render on termination of the contract (provisions, money and a gun); an endowment which had dropped considerably from the 1681 level: in fact up until that point 50 acres of land had been allotted as well. And it is from this period that we can trace the birth of a phenomenon which would be assiduously cultivated by the ruling class over the century that followed, racism; a sentiment which was actively propagated amongst the lowest strata of the white proletariat, corrupting them with a few miserable privileges which allowed them to feel somehow superior to their coloured co-workers and giving them cause to fear their own possible decline into a condition even worse than their own.
The servants had more rights than the African slave: as well being allowed
to stand witness they had legal status and could take legal action. They
therefore had a real prospect of being fully integrated into society with
full rights. It was for this reason that workers of this type continued
to flood into the Colonies, amounting to half of all emigrants before Independence.
African slaves were utilised as workers in workshops and shipyards, usually
hired out for a number of months or years to the industrial capitalist.
But there was still a growing need for free labourers, above all in the
North. Indeed if slave labour was economical convenient on the plantations,
where there was work to be done throughout the year, this wasn’t the
case in industry where the requirement for labour suffered from extreme
seasonal oscillations. If servants and slaves both had to be fed, clothed
and housed even in the off-season, the free labourer could simply be sacked.
And, as we have seen, slaves and servants represented capital, which was
lost if they took themselves off. Clearly great advantages attached to
free labour, as Adam Smith would himself admit in The Wealth of Nations
The Eighteenth Century: Birth of the Urban Proletariat
Whereas in the Colonies of the North an economy was forming based mainly on small commercial production, essentially agricultural and craft based, with a few exceptions such as the shipbuilding and construction industry, those in the South were developing the system of great plantations which required a large and ever growing mass of labourers. In order to satisfy the demand for labour, which the influx from Europe was unable to satisfy, it was necessary to obtain immigrants from elsewhere. Alongside the white component there started to appear, from the second half of the 1600s, the African slave. The indigenous peoples, as had already become evident in the colonies of Latin America, had proved not to be suitable as slaves for numerous reasons. Not that this prevented them from being enslaved, and in 1730 25% of slaves were in fact Native Americans.
The Black slaves were forcibly imported from Africa by the Royal African Company (the first ever shipment – of 20 – were put ashore and sold by a Dutch man-o’-war in 1619), and the South’s vital need to ensure itself a massive supply of labour would predispose it to frame the previously mentioned Slave Codes, which differentiated the figure of the African slave from that of the white servant by gradually increasing the formers obligations until their period of service became virtually unlimited. Africans, after all, were always involuntary immigrants, and it wasn’t therefore necessary to treat them well to encourage others to follow in their footsteps: their bondage was permanent, not just limited to a few years; usually they were non-Christians; it was convenient to treat them as non-citizens, without the concomitant citizen’s rights; finally, the colour of their skin set them apart and made it easy to the implement the Slave Codes. Thus did slavery, in its North American guise, come into being.
The greatest concentrations of African slaves became localized in the tobacco plantations of Virginia, North Carolina and Maryland and in the rice and indigo plantations of South Carolina and Georgia. The working conditions of the black slaves were obviously harsh, but they weren’t that much better for the whites, who were subjected to severe restrictions even though officially ‘free’. Labour was regulated by ancient English laws which restricted the mobility of labourers, who had no power over their contracts, not even whether they worked or not. There was therefore the obligation to work, prices and wages were fixed by local laws, and both masters and servants were prohibited from making any adjustments to them. The period for apprenticeships was fixed at seven years, and often taking up another trade was prohibited as well.
But the regulations could not stop economic development, only slow it up.
In the mostly self-sufficient communities of New England the quality of craft production was deteriorating: in fact with so much land available it was very easy for badly treated workers to simply abandon their trade and become independent farmers. Thus rustic craft production arose, with the peasant farmer in the little puritan villages turning his hand to pretty much anything during the long boring winters.
From the beginning of the 18th century, as the villages expanded into cities and as a certain specialisation of labour, favoured by generally high levels of education, became justifiable, the crafts began to assume greater importance. Whilst European products were still those most in demand, artisans and craftsmen started to be needed again, above all in the cities of the Centre and the North. The South, meanwhile, remained predominantly autarchic and rural.
Immigration started to rise again, part of which was composed of artisans who unlike indentured servants paid their own passage, and who often brought with them a small nest egg with which to set up in business in an environment which promised a lot more than their mother country. Naturally enough the first types of organisation formed by these craft workers were identical to the ones they had left behind in Europe, namely the guilds. Already in 1648 the coopers and cobblers of Boston had organised themselves in such a way, with the declared aim of establishing strict professional rules and thus of maintaining a craft monopoly within a few hands. Setting rates of pay and establishing the rules governing apprenticeship, the guilds only really developed in the great cities of the Central North, and even there it was with difficulty due to the social fluidity of the New World. The bakers came to an agreement amongst themselves to refuse to make bread, given the cost of flour, if official prices fell too low: and this led, in 1741, to what is held to be the first strike in American history. But in fact it wasn’t so much a fight between workers and bosses as a reaction by artisans and small masters against the regulation of prices by the authorities.
In fact, on the few occasions that workers acted in their own interests and took action seperately from the masters and master craftsmen, it was almost always prompted by a wish to eliminate competition from black labour, whether slave or free. What they achieved, or caused, was the abolition of slavery in the Centre-North. In the South, on the other hand, where the black population was far more numerous, they only succeeded in excluding the latter from the highly specialised trades.
Another struggle that left its mark on the chronicles of colonial America is that of the black chimney-sweeps of Charleston in 1761. Contemporary accounts relate, rather peevishly, that, “they had the nerve, after reaching an agreement amongst themselves, to increase the normal rates, and to turn down work if their exorbitant demands were not satisfied”. The slaves on the plantations could not, of course, resort to such measures; for them, same as for the indentured servants, the only effective form of protest was collective rebellion, it was either that or running away. The newspapers of the period give full and detailed accounts of the dramatic results of both these choices. Slave rebellions were nevertheless rare before the 18th century, although becoming more frequent later on as the number of slaves increased, as they became more familiar with the environment increased and as better communications became established.
Following the events described above, relating to the first century of slavery, there was an explosion of revolts in the crisis-ridden period which led up to the colonial rebellion and independence. These took place from 1765 onward, in the wake of an extremely hard fought rebellion in Jamaica in 1760 (which the authorities only managed to repress with much difficulty) and of other rebellions which would tear through the Caribbean like a hurricane over the ensuing years.
Thus the slaves in the North American colonies would take advantage
of the growing rift between the imperial and colonial ruling classes and
revolts would break out pretty much everywhere: in Virginia (1767), New
Jersey (1772), South Carolina and Massachusetts (1774), New York, Maryland,
Virginia, South Carolina, North Carolina (1775), and South Carolina (1776).
The Working Class Before Independence
Summing up the key characteristics of the proletariat in America in the period before Independence isn’t easy. Certainly there was an enormous difference between the standard of living of the Black slave on the plantations and the specialised worker in the Northern cities. The difference was such, indeed, that it would be perpetuated for a long time to come and become a defining characteristic of American society. But even amongst the free workers there existed a heterogeneity linked to geographical origin, class, race, religion, to the various types of proletarian employment and to the uneven economic development in the various parts of the country, which, along with the notable distances between the cities and the difficulties of communication, made it difficult for class consciousness to emerge. Such was also the case in the cities in which, in the seventeen hundreds, the various types of worker started to congregate.
A second important characteristic of American society at the time was its contiguity with the agrarian world; a world in which land wasn’t an object of speculation as in contemporary Europe but where it was there for the taking, for whoever wanted it.
A third feature, linked to the preceding ones, which distinguished the North American environment from the European was the relatively high lwages paid to the free workers. Despite repeated attempts to regulate wages, these still remained between around 30 and 200% higher than in England; and this was the case from the very beginning: even in 1639 there were complaints that if wages weren’t lowered, “the servants will become masters, and the masters servants”. But it was not just the remunerative side of things that European travellers would remark upon. They would also have cause to note, often with barely concealed disgust, the extreme familiarity between employees and bosses; this, too, an American peculiarity which would endure until the birth of large scale industry, and indeed, in a certain sense, one which has been customary amongst ‘yanks’ up to the present day.
But the life of the wage earner in colonial America certainly wasn’t all sweetness and light. The comparison above, as well as being made with the awful conditions of the European wage earner of the time, only held good when there actually was work. During periods of unemployment the worker was often unable to prevent his children from starving, or himself from ending up in jail. Real wages were often reduced by a high rate of inflation as well. If prices dropped the courts would order the workers to accept a proportional reduction in wages, if they rose, the same courts would set a cap on wages; and to ask for a raise was to risk being punished with a hefty fine, something which was far from uncommon during periods of economic upturn, or in the sparsely populated towns. If on the other hand the bosses offered more, in order to attract labour, it was still the workers who were punished by the courts. The employers’ associations, who would display a level of hypocrisy that would come to define the American bourgeoisie, maintained that such measures served to ‘save the American worker from himself’, it being taken as said that the worker, with money in his pocket and a bit of free time, would inevitably engage in activities which were ruinous to his physical and moral health.
Strikes and trade unions were strictly prohibited under laws dating back to 14th century England, (we will see how it was not until the 1720s that the legal obstacles to the workers’ economic struggles were removed, although the bourgeoisie would still be able to count on the continuing support of the judiciary, the police, the national guard, the army and private police forces in their battles against the workers, and moreover to a greater degree than normal in the Western democracies). This prohibition has been described by an English historian as a conspiracy of the bourgeoisie and the public powers to keep the proletariat in its place and in a state of permanent poverty. Adam Smith himself would confirm that “whenever the government attempts to deal with the conflict between masters and workers, its counsellors are always the masters”. And he added: “There are no laws preventing agreements to lower the price of labour, but a great number that prevent any agreement to raise it”.
Of the actual struggles that took place between free proletarians and masters very little is known, both because not many of them occurred and because contemporary accounts are somewhat reticent. In 1636 a Maine ship owner announced that his workers and sailors had “mutinied” because he hadn’t paid their wages: the struggle took the form of a mass walk out. Five years later, also in Maine, we hear about carpenters engaging in a work-to-rule, protesting about the lack of food. Still in the same period there is the first lock-out in American history, when a Gloucester ship owner ordered his determinedly combative workers to stop work and take themselves off.
The first sector to be industrialised, and consequently to have a working class which to a certain degree was concentrated in one place, was the ship yards, and it was here that the trial of strength of the nascent North American bourgeoisie with its English and Dutch competitors would commence. Although carpenters predominated, it was an industry in which most types of craftsmen were required. Wage labour however was slow to develop within the remaining crafts and areas of production. The manufacture of consumer products was the prerogative of lone artisans, who would work from home and occasionally emerge to sell what they had produced in the surrounding countryside, or exchange it for agricultural products, either for personal consumption or to sell in the towns. There wasn’t really much of a market to speak of: every farm was highly self-sufficient and amongst the roles performed within the peasant household were those of carpenter, spinner, weaver, candle-maker, shoemaker and smith. Leaving aside the crafts based in the shipyards the skills most in demand were those relating to mills and foundries, to barrel-making and saddle-making, to carriage building and to the manufacture of metal and glass objects.
As demand rose, the artisan found he could only increase his output by associating his activity with the labour of others. For £.10 to £.20 he could purchase a contract servant, and have him work for seven years or so in exchange for board and lodging and a few items of clothing. Although acquiring or hiring an African slave was a possible alternative we have already seen how in actual fact it was the free labourer who would come to replace the contract servant, especially in the Central North.
Given the composition of the labour force, the trade union agitations of the seventeen hundreds consisted more than anything of lock-outs of artisans demanding better retribution for their independent labour: thus was the case in 1684 for the New York street cleaners, in 1741 for the caulkers in Boston, and in 1770 for the coopers in New York. In the case of the latter they would be tried and ordered to pay heavy fines and the ones working for the local authority were sacked. Historians generally refer to the Philadelphia Printers’ Strike in 1784 as the first real strike of wage earners in North America; but there was also a struggle that took place in the colonial period, that of the New York tailors in 1768, which could also credibly claim that distinction.
We cannot as yet say that permanent trade unions existed. Specialised workers continued to meet in societies they shared with master artisans and small masters. These were mutual aid societies that only rarely concerned themselves with wages and hours; and if they did, it was only to plead for better laws, often with corporative objectives.
But workers were in great demand, and a clear sign of this is the number of advertisements for skilled workers. The earliest ones date from 1715, whereas we have to wait until 1770 before the first employment bureau is founded, in New York City.
Thus did the American working class arise, fostered by the decline of
indentured labour and by the arrival of free workers from Europe. From
the very start these workers would fall into two clearly defined groups:
the specialised workers, equipped with a trade learnt in an artisan’s
workshop and with specialised tools, and the manual labourers, the non-specialised,
who neither possessed the knowledge nor the ability relative to a given
trade, and who had their muscle power alone to sell.
Our comrade Franco’s life was that of a proletarian, who once he became a communist remained dedicated to its spirit and ideals for the rest of his life.
Like most young proletarians, particularly of his generation, he was soon enrolled, at a very young age after a few years of elementary education, in the practical school of labour. Amongst his first experiences was working nightshifts in a bakery. Then he went on to work as an apprentice in various craft workshops.
He would talk of how hard the work was, especially in the years of post-war reconstruction when the working class was being exploited by a greatly speeded up pace of work and being fobbed off with the hypocritical excuse that their efforts would help ‘build a better society’. It was also a time when the threat of dismissal was constant and very real.
From the very start of his working life Franco would witness much abuse of power and injustice and he was the victim of it himself. This persuaded him to take a determined and militant part in the workers’ struggles, such as those which blazed through Turin at the end of the 60s.
On the back of those struggles he would go on to embrace communism; the liberation of a new society arising from the destruction of the present capitalist one. The reason he joined the party.
He always felt the need to keep himself informed, to read, to study in the little free time his life as a piece-working craftsman allowed him. And it was a habit he would take over into his all too brief period as a pensioner, reading everything he could get his hands on about communist theory. He never made a big show of his knowledge, being keenly aware that as far as we are concerned doctrine is just a weapon in the continuing battle. As Marx said: “Ours is not a passion of the head, but the head of passion”.
Despite his respiratory illness, which was work related and caused by years of dust inhalation and which first appeared many years ago, requiring numerous surgical interventions, Franco’s commitment never wavered.
Communism filled his life. In his final days he was still talking about the inevitable and imminent collapse of capitalism, even with the doctors treating him. A comrade who was witness to this noticed their amazement at the passion of a communist who, even though knowing he only had a few days to live, continued to keep up a lucid and vigorous fight, not only against the terrible illness he was suffering from, but against the cancer undermining the whole of society, which goes by the name of Capitalism.
We will remember you, old friend, with esteem and affection, fighting
your courageous battle, continuing to fight the same fight as always, for
the same goal as always.
The party’s Autumn meeting was held in our editorial offices in Genoa on September 21 and 22 with representatives from nearly all of our groups in attendance.
With the general situation still inexorably counter-revolutionary due to subjective conditions, the party’s chief task is to keep alive the communist program and the principles of Marxist doctrine; a body of science and class experiences which will prove necessary weapons for future generations of insurgent proletarians and their vanguard party. Every class accumulates knowledge through experience. The depositary of the knowledge of the world proletariat is the communist party.
The number of reports scheduled for this meeting was more than usual and some therefore had to be presented in an abbreviated form, on the understanding that we would return to these subjects at future meetings and full versions would appear in the press.
A list of the reports is presented below.
Before and after the main sessions we met to agree on a program of work for the coming months, deciding who would do what.
The Military Question: China – Working Class Anti-militarism and the First World War – Course of the economy – The origin of the trade unions in Italy – Financial capital – The ‘Peace process’ in Northern Ireland – Imperialism in Iraq – History of the American labour movement – The Jewish Question: (9) Communism.
This January we returned to Sarzana for the latest of our regular meetings. It was good that most of the comrades who were there a year ago and expressed their keenness to return to Sarzana had also made it. In a tranquil setting overlooking the Magra, the spacious venue was well adapted to the requirements of the task to which we have all committed ourselves, today involving not sensational acts but rather a stubborn insistence on study in order to counter the shallow platitudes relentlessly rammed home by the bourgeoisie, and in order to better understand the degeneration occurring at every level of the present-day society which we counter with the objective validity of the classic, original doctrine and program of communism.
Only by partaking in this activity, carried out collectively and at an unhurried pace, with everyone pursuing a common objective, and purged of any morbid obsession with the need for verbal duels with ‘big names’, can we prepare the party and get ready for the revolution. The meetings are not used to tackle internal conflicts, to impose new theses on the party, or to impose one faction on the rest of the party, but to present and consider collectively the progress and coherence of the party’s work; always difficult, against the tide of opinion and always entirely appreciated.
The reports listed here, all of which received a most attentive hearing, were presented during the Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning sessions.
Anti-militarism in the Italian Socialist Party – Marxist Economy, commercial capital – Class struggle in the Lebanon – History of the American labour movement (6) – Course of the economic crisis – Marxism and religion – Towards a history of science.
This general meeting, held on the party premises in Turin, also went very well. Comrades representing most of our groups attended and the usual structured and energetic atmosphere prevailed.
Memories and reminiscences were exchanged about Giandomenico, who recently sadly left us after a full militant life, much of it shared with many of those who were at the meeting (see obituary in Communist Left 27/28).
The first part of the meeting, out of custom and necessity, was dedicated to harmonising our work across the various areas, a work which today, by force of circumstances, is prevalently, but not exclusively, directed toward a study of the movement’s doctrine and history. As is well known, this convergent work of research excludes the method of confronting opposing theses, with us preferring, in cases of uncertainty, to suspend judgement and undertake further study. According to our view and way of going about things, there is never any major hurry.
The sessions on Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning were dedicated to listening to the various reports which, as always, were densely packed with useful knowledge, and which, like the roots of a tree, aim to push down ever deeper and spread ever further into the compact mass of our historical and material class doctrine.
Anti-militarism in the labour movement – Origins of the trade unions in Italy – Union matters – the Civil war in the Lebanon – the course of capitalism – Marxist Economy: profit and interest – The military question.
The party’s working meeting on this occasion took place in Cortona over the weekend of Saturday 27th and Sunday 28th September. Some comrades arrived early on the Friday, others who were expected to attend were unfortunately prevented from doing so by health problems.
The meeting hall was booked by our comrades of the Chiana Valley – one of our oldest sections, who have recently lost the much loved Giandomenico. It proved a very suitable venue insofar as it allowed us to fully concentrate on our work, which, unlike the prevailing demagoguery of the bourgeoisie, is never simple and always requires notable effort, including of an intellectual nature; talents and capacities that we derive not so much from individuals, either yesterday’s or today’s, but rather from a militant body composed of the entirety of the party; an organism expressing the communism which is maturing in this society and which like any other complex organism can demonstrate surprising fortitude, adaptability and capacity to resist, united however with a great fragility when forced to betray itself, its programme and the method proper to it.
An excellent atmosphere prevailed throughout the meeting and not a moment was wasted.
As usual we devoted Saturday morning to general organisational work and dedicated the afternoon and Sunday to the presentation of reports. The latter, all of them treating subjects necessary insofar as they aim to determine the correct line of the world revolutionary party in the future, were listened to with much attention (without any disruptive spur-of-the-moment ‘interventions’ so fashionable amongst the bourgeoisie and the chattering classes) and will be available for future collective consideration when published in our review Comunismo and in future more in-depth analyses.
The Third Volume of Capital – Origins of the trade unions in Italy – The military question – Toward a history of religion – The course of the economic crisis – Anti-militarism in the labour movement.
Representatives from almost all of our groups, in Spain, France and Great Britain, attended the party’s latest general meeting at the end of January. Everyone who came was very appreciative and pleased with the way it all went.
Despite certain modifications to our schedule, due the strike in France and its repercussions on transport, we managed despite some changes in the programme to cover all the items on our agenda, including in the organisational meetings on the Friday afternoon and Saturday morning aspects we don’t like to call ‘technical’ since in the party there is nothing neutral, that is, nothing dome that is indifferent to the final goal. Means and ends determine each other in a reciprocal way and the ‘way’ we work influences what is produced. The fruit of our collective struggle, which today appears mainly in our press, shouldn’t be considered separately, in isolation, but as the result of applying the correct communist methodology.
Clearly the party doesn’t wish to feel separated from the rest of the world, especially its world, that is, the working class. However we are convinced that the future growth, both qualitatively and quantitatively, of the revolutionary organ, maybe without it even needing to be said and happening in a serenely natural way, will clear from its path all the instruments typical of the worship of ‘great men’; the debates between different opinions; the career politics and other such bourgeois trifles.
After our organisational meetings the Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning were dedicated to the presentation of reports. And it is worth stating that the latter are not presented to the comrades in order to be approved, rejected or criticised but rather are considered and appreciated by all as a partial contribution to a unitary work, which is rolled out “according to a plan”, ever striving toward a better understanding of class historical science, which has the substance and the power of an impersonal material mass.
Course of the capitalist economy – Financial Capital – History
of the American labour Movement – The foundation of the Chinese communist
party – The trade unions in Italy after the Second World War – The
war in the Gaza Strip – Agrarian collectivism in Spain – The military
The reader will note that some of the report resumes published here
are longer than others. This is not because we consider one theme more
worthy of extended treatment than another, but is simply because the more
extended report on the Genoa meeting [GM 99] in the Italian press had already
been partly translated into English and it seemed relevant to include it,
adding it to the condensed resumé which was prepared by an Italian comrade
and which forms the core text translated here.
The Military Question
The report on the Military Question – in the four chapters summarised here – commenced with a brief resumé of previous chapters already presented. Attention was drawn to a key principle of our Marxist theory according to which “Force is the midwife of every old society, pregnant with a new society. It is itself an economic power” (Capital, vol. 1, chap. 31).
In a prior series of reports we looked at the place of violence and wars in the transitional period between primitive communism and class society, and at ‘the invention’ of slavery.
We then stopped to consider the formation and birth of the temporal and landowning power of the Church of Rome and the management of power by the two greatest mediaeval forces, the Church and the Empire. The struggle between these two forces would eventually be resolved, apart from in Italy, by the submission of the Church to the State in France and the formation of national churches in England and Germany.
This would lead to the formation of merchant capital. This capital was subjected to the necessity of a centralised, absolutist monarchy to oppose the localism of the feudal lords who were putting brakes on the development of trade.
Over this long arc of historical time, powerful technical and productive developments would make a considerable impact on the evolution of military technology. In short, the cavalry, the weapon of the feudal nobility, would cede its primary role in battle to the infantry, a form made possible by the collaboration of the new social classes on the battlefield.
Alongside the old nobility, ultimately scions of a warrior aristocracy there arose a new nobility, riding the tide of the immense flow of mercantile capital. Now that land could be bought and sold, this new nobility could use its wealth to simply buy up the old feudal estates. Soon these two nobilities would be bound to come into conflict.
On the basis of these initial chapters of the report, there followed an analysis of the first state forms in China.
According to our scheme there is a succession of forms of production: from primitive communism one moves on to the secondary form, then on to feudalism and thence to capitalism, from where it is possible to achieve the next, higher stage of communism. There were three variations of the secondary form: ancient-classical or slave, Asiatic and Germanic.
By the 5th century AD, at the time of the definitive collapse of the Roman Empire, five major types of large-scale state organisation had been particularly important. Although at different stages of development, all were organised as vast empires based on the secondary mode of production. These were:, the empire of the Han dynasty in China, which came to an end in the 2nd century AD; the Kushan kingdom in Kashmir; the Gupta empire in India, and the kingdom of the Sassanids in Iran and Mesopotamia. On the other hand in Armenia, and in the Aksumite kingdom of Ethiopia, the slave form was still well entrenched with no major internal contradictions. Amongst the Mongolian and Turkish tribes, primitive communism still survived, whilst amongst the Celtic and Germanic tribes of Europe, as the old community relations slowly crumbled, classes and the first germs of state organisation appeared.
In China the first historically documented state organisation appeared with the Shang dynasty in 1751 BC. By this time Egyptian civilization, organised in the Asiatic variant of the secondary form, had already passed its peak with the building of the pyramids of Giza four centuries earlier. It would then be absorbed by the Greek and later the Roman worlds, both based on slavery.
The Shang civilization was one in which there was clear social division between the dominant class at the summit of society, living in palace-cities, and local communities, for the most part dedicated to agriculture with the extent of manufacture determined purely by local requirements. They were tributaries of the centre however,both as regards the supply of basic necessities and manufactured goods, and the obligatory, free provision of labour power required for the great irrigation, drainage and reclamation works and the construction of various buildings, such as defensive works, monasteries and the palace-cities. It was a society in which they were no longer free men but serfs subject to various lords.
The Chou dynasty, which followed and supplanted it, pursued a less centralised policy that notably reduced the central authority’s organisational and defensive role and thus allowed the growth of the power of the nobility in the outlying regions, who started to fight amongst themselves to establish local predominance. Inasmuch as the central power was weak and the provincial power of the nobles was strong, it was a period in some ways comparable to the Germanic type of feudalism prevalent in Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire, and in fact the period has been sometimes been referred to as “ancient aristocratic feudalism”. This, and the numerous invasions of nomads from the North, led to a period of great uncertainty with domestic wars, a breakdown in production and widespread famine.
The situation revived with the establishment of the Ch’in dynasty in the 2nd Century BC, and once again China was reunited under one central authority with a strong bureaucracy and military structure. The state which was formed, which has been dubbed “bureaucratic feudalism”, may be compared with those in 17th and 18th century Europe, and the “First August Emperor” Shih-Huang-ti, with his victories and splendour, resembles Louis XIV of France. His dynasty wouldn’t survive but the subsequent Han dynasty would continue the work of reinforcing the central authority.
The definitive passage to a specifically centralised mode of production took place under a new Ch’in dynasty, which enacted a number of laws to tie the peasant (now become serf and dependent of the state, which was sole proprietor of the land) to the estate assigned to him from the state demesne. He received two plots, which he wasn’t allowed to abandon and which he had to cultivate, one for himself and one for the state. He was also obliged to perform a number of free services for the state, including military service. The new body of laws dates to 285 AD and sanctions the passage to a particular form which has been called ‘state feudalism’, or the unitary empire, a form that remained unbroken right up to the revolution of the Young Chinese in 1911.
Clear and definitive relations exist in respect to land ownership, to the distribution of the products of labour and in regard to the amount of land assigned and the amount of labour supplied which is quickly transformed into products and manufactured goods, comparable, in some respects, to what occurred in the late feudal period in Europe.
This economic and social organisation brought about a first powerful growth of the productive forces which allowed, amongst other things, significant technical improvements in iron-working, and this would have the effect of decisively strengthening the Chinese military apparatus, both as regards weaponry and the new strategies which would be their natural consequence. Due to shortages of copper and tin, a sophisticated technique of iron-making was developed, to the extent that good quality steel was already being produced in the 2nd century BC thanks to a system of sequential smelting and the use of double acting piston bellows, which provided a steady, powerful air-stream capable of achieving constant high temperatures.
Later instalments of the report covered the first expressions of the bourgeoisie and nascent proletariat during the embryonic stages of capitalism in the Italy of the 13th century and its prolongation in the city communes.
As it was impossible for the workers to improve their living conditions with bloodless methods they often resorted to violence, a marked feature of the entire history of the Italian communes
Mercantile capitalism continues its march forward in England since its development is blocked in Italy and Flanders due to historical and economic reasons. The Hundred Years War and the Black Death which depopulated central Europe prevent the repayment of the gigantic sums borrowed from the Italian bankers and close down the English market as outlets for merchants. The effect of the struggle between Pope and Emperor and the advance of the Turks and the Magyars in the East has an analogous effect.
The axis of economic development thus shifts towards central Europe where, on the basis of mercantile capital, the struggle against feudalism is ignited. Revolutionary struggles by the peasants follow, each conforming to the level of social development of the countries in which they take place.
Next, we passed on to the important section dedicated to the mass armed struggles of the French Revolution, whose passionate and impetuous fervour was such that only the future international communist rebellion will ever overshadow it.
The reciprocal effects of the agricultural revolution on industry, and of the industrial revolution on agriculture, and the transformation of mercantile capital into industrial and agrarian capital, had already transformed economic realities to such an extent that the old superstructures no longer corresponded to them and were preventing the liberation of the new productive forces.
The report then dwelt at length on the various phases of the revolution and examined them in their social, political and military aspects. Special attention was paid to the National Guard, initially composed of volunteers, whose aim was to defend the Assembly against a possible monarchist coup d’état by the Royal Guard.
After discussing the historical and political background the speaker went on to talk about the evolution of the military forces which supported these events. After the revolution in 1789, the French bourgeoisie took power and the infantry became the principal weapon in its expansion.
With Napoleon we have the rationalisation of the “annihilation strategy”, in other words the destruction in the shortest possible time of the enemy’s capacity for action, a strategy which still persists in current warfare.
The report then went on to describe the typical armaments of the period
used by the infantry, the artillery and the cavalry, with the English forces
having the advantage, their guns’ fire power being almost double that
of the French.
The presentation of the work on anti-militarism, extended over four meetings, picked up from where it left off at the Sarzana meeting (see report in Communist Left, 27-28), examining in particular the repercussions of the Zimmerwald Conference throughout the world.
Since the bourgeois press and government propaganda in all of the belligerent countries were unable to pass over the event in silence, they joined together in denouncing it as a sly manoeuvre of the enemy. But it was on the international workers’ movement, of course, that Zimmerwald had the greatest impact. All parties, fractions, trade unions and parliamentary groups, etc, claiming allegiance to international socialism were forced, despite themselves, to take a position: either affiliating with Zimmerwald, or condemning it and opposing the anti-war movement. No one could ignore it, no-one could pretend it hadn’t occurred, and this in itself was a major victory.
The most inveterate enemies and denigrators of Zimmerwald were the French and German socialist parties, enemies on the battlefronts of the imperialist war but united in their opposition to any form of class residuum which might re-emerge from the ashes of the great betrayal.
Support for the Zimmerwald resolutions and manifesto was however by no means insignificant, to the extent we can say that actually a small international had formed around it.
But what interests us most of all is the fact that at the Zimmerwald conference and in the months which followed an increasingly marked difference would emerge between the supporters of the type of anti-militarism which was typical of the Second International, which although in line with Marxism’s classist principles from a theoretical point of view nevertheless clung to the false myth of party unity at all costs, and the extreme left, which insisted on the need for a clear and definitive break with social-chauvinism, and on the need to found a new International, capable of guiding the proletariat towards the revolutionary conquest of power.
And that was the real outcome of the conference as far as the Bolsheviks were concerned, that is, as the setting of the first stone of the Third International in place. In its press organ, Vorbote, the Zimmerwald Left wrote: “Any organic unity between those who have turned socialism into an instrument of imperialism and those who wish to make it an instrument of revolution is no longer possible (…) The creation of the Third International will only be possible if there is a break with social-patriotism”.
The speaker went on to quote Lenin’s famous appraisal, and then reported on Rosa Luxemburg’s assessment of the situation.
With the left current pressing hard on its heels, the International Socialist Committee, the body which emerged from the Zimmerwald Conference, was obliged to call a second international conference which was held at Kienthal between the 24th and 30th April 1916. Forty-five delegates from various nations would attend this conference, a considerable number if one takes into account the numerous obstacles and difficulties delegates from the belligerent countries inevitably encountered just getting to Switzerland. If all of the comrades with a mandate had managed to get there, the number attending and the number of countries represented would have been a third higher at least.
Although the conference approved several theoretical declarations and statements of principle on the imperialist character of the global conflict, nevertheless it expressed doubts about whether immediate practical measures could be taken to stop the war. The majority rejected the proposals presented by the Bolsheviks, who declared that any peace programme was entirely hypocritical in the absence of propaganda amongst the people to demonstrate why a revolution was needed and to encourage revolutionary activity. The proposals advanced by the Bolsheviks clearly and unambiguously demonstrated their objectives and their clear line of march. Their intention was to bolster propaganda for the world revolution, of whose imminence they were in no doubt.
The Kienthal Conference was harshly critical towards the Second International. “The Committee of the International Socialist Bureau has utterly failed in its duty (…) becoming accessory to a repudiation of principles by adhering to the policy of so-called national defence and holy alliance which has reduced the International to a shameful state of mouldering impotence (…) thus abasing the central organ of the International to the unworthy rank of servile instrument, of hostage to one of the imperialist coalitions”. Having made these preliminary remarks, the conference expressed “its deep conviction that the International will not be able to halt this decay and appear again as an authentic political power unless, hand in hand with the global proletariat, having freed itself from chauvinist and imperialist influences, it once again takes to the road of social struggle and mass action”.
And yet the majority of the Zimmerwald group didn’t have the courage to go beyond a purely verbal condemnation. Many of them held that the Second International hadn’t collapsed altogether but had merely temporarily broken down as a result of the terrible global crisis caused by the war. Those who supported this interpretation were consequently opposed to any revolutionary shake-up inside the old parties. According to them, splitting the old parties and the international was unthinkable, and they affected to be convinced that once the war was over the social-patriots would recognise the error of their ways and once again take up their posts within, and at the head of, the international proletarian movement. They were therefore determined to oppose the rise of the Third International.
The position of the Zimmerwald Left, naturally enough, was exactly the opposite. For them the question of the stance to be taken toward the International Socialist Bureau was the most important item on the agenda. It was very clear, to them as to the others, that what was really at stake was the question of the Third International. The main task was demonstrating to the proletariat the need for a split from the social-patriots who in all countries had betrayed socialism. One set was in the service of the Austro-German imperialists, the other, vassals of the imperialism of the Triple Alliance. And yet both were equally counter-revolutionary. At the opportune moment both sets of social-patriots would reciprocally absolve each other of their sins and work together in perfect harmony to suffocate the internationalist opposition everywhere. And that, unfortunately, is precisely what happened.
The exposition then went on to consider the stance taken by the various components of the Italian Socialist Party toward the war, and particularly toward Italy’s entry into the war. As long as the Italian State remained neutral it was easy for the Italian Socialist Party to declare its aversion to the imperialist struggle and criticise the sections which had fallen short of the solemn declarations of World congresses. But when it came down to it, anti-militarist intransigence, neutralism and even pacificism were not observed, leaving the field free for a defence of what was deemed to be in the immediate term of prior importance, i.e., the national interest.
The Italian socialists hid themselves behind the hypocritical slogan “neither support nor sabotage”, which was just as much a betrayal, if not worse, than that perpetrated by the other belligerent nations.
We then stopped a while to consider the Russian Revolution of February 1917, and the unexpected consequences which derived from it on a global scale. The tyrannical tsarist police state would melt away almost without a shot fired.
The Entente countries, on hearing the news, were keen to present the February Revolution as the will of the Russian people and its democratic parties to continue or even intensify the war against Germany, and every bourgeois and defector from socialism would lavish praise on the new Russia.
With the continued participation of democratic Russia in the war, new life was breathed into the old deceit that the war had a revolutionary character as liberator of the oppressed peoples. And precisely this position was adopted by the right wing of the Italian Socialist Party, and without the leadership feeling the necessity to challenge them.
Lenin understood completely that the theory of revolutionary defencism constituted a dangerous threat to the revolution, a theory that had not only been adopted by all the bourgeois and social democratic parties but had even penetrated the Bolshevik party. Lenin’s instructions were peremptory: it is necessary to form a workers’ militia whose aim is to become the executive organ of the Soviet; we must immediately prepare for the proletarian revolution; denouncing the treaties with the imperialists, and not getting caught in the trap of “revolutionary defencism”; working to transform the imperialist war into civil war.
In Italy the Russian revolution in February and the American intervention in the war paved the way for the definitive removal of the last, weak vestiges of a class bias in the Italian Socialist Party.
Casting the light of Marxist dialectic on the great events unfolding in the East, the Italian young socialists were quick to decipher the meaning of the Russian revolution.
Finally the bourgeois Kerensky government was overthrown, and the Soviet, within which the Bolsheviks had become the enormous majority, took power. In Petrograd, same as during the Paris Commune, the revolution triumphed by marching in the opposite direction to the war front, firing not at the foreign enemy but at the enemy within, against the class power of the bourgeoisie.
Brest-Litovsk represented the magnificent culmination of the Bolshevik’s theoretical position on War. The Bolsheviks declared that if they hadn’t made peace, they wouldn’t have carried on fighting either. Clearly an entirely new logic was being brought to bear: that of the proletarian revolution. Thus sabotaging one militarism didn’t mean helping the other but sabotaging both; it meant sabotaging their common view of history, their common means of maintaining the rule of capital.
Did this mean that the proletarian power was prepared to act on strictly pacifist grounds? Not a bit of it! The possibility of having recourse to a “revolutionary war” was never ruled out by Lenin on principle, indeed, between 1918 and 1920 Russia engaged in genuine revolutionary wars which were both defensive, against the attacks of the French and English equipped expeditionary forces, etc, and offensive against Poland.
But the Leninist theory of the revolutionary war includes certain stipulations,
namely: the existence of a genuine proletarian state; the requirement such
a war be conducted by a red army of the sort Lenin announced to the 2nd
Congress; that everywhere proletarian armies were in the process of formation
and communists working towards forming one sole army.
Course of the economy
At every meeting there is a presentation describing current trends in the capitalist economy based on current data. With the help of a projector attendees were better able to follow the detailed explanation of the figures and graphs given in relation to the statistical series.
The first task is always updating the tables on industrial production in the major manufacturing countries.
The reports then continue with an update of world trade figures, from which is derived a numerical table covering the period from 1948. We observed the continuous strong rise in the value of commodities crossing state boundaries. For each of the countries covered the value of exports, imports and the balance of trade was given in billions of dollars along with their respective quota of the world total. In all countries the monetary component is still rising, with the exception of India in 1953, still focussing then on the domestic market, and Russia in 1993, due to domestic instability.
In general the figures were very interesting and revealing. In the post 2nd World War period the United States has seen its exports decline from 22% of the global total to 9% and its imports increase from 13% to 17%: in 2005 a trade deficit of 830 billion dollars was recorded. An ‘American curve’ for Great Britain, with figures halved over the period and a 129 billion deficit in 2005.
Germany, which in 1948 was reduced to exporting a mere 1.1% and importing 2% reached a peak in 1973 with respectively 12% and 9%, after which its quota fell to 9% and 7%. In 2005 it exported more than it imported to the extent that it could boast a surplus of 187 billion dollars. France and Italy show a similar trajectory, but with the figures approximately halved. However they have been importing more than they exported and in 2005 showed a deficit to the tune of 37 billion in France and 13 billion in Italy.
The Japanese figures resemble those of Germany, France and Italy. Russia also has a rising curve up to 1973, after which it contracts. Both show a positive balance of trade, with Japan exporting industrial products and Russia raw materials.
China: its share of world trade is very low up to 1983, after which there is regular growth; in 2005 it shows a positive trade balance of 100 billion dollars. The involvement of India in world trade, on the other hand, is still less than in colonial times. The domestic market is still the main focus.
Looking at the table and comparing the data for the various countries, we can make the following observations: in 1948 the United States contribution was between a fifth and a quarter of all exports, Great Britain a tenth, Germany, France and Italy combined 7%, and the others, very little. By 1973 the United States had dropped to 12% and Great Britain to 5%. The three continental European countries combined saw their share rise to 22%, the same as the USA in 1948. Japan is up to 6% and Russia is at 4%. The others, very little. In 2005 we have the United States and Germany at the head of the list, but with their overall share reduced to just 9% each. The group of three European countries have an 18% share, but this is still lower than before. China, “the Germany of Asia”, is in third position and coming up fast behind the top two. In fact it is using its massive surplus to snap up American shares.
Further reports, illustrated with relevant graphic series, provided us with updates on price trends, in particular the oscillations in the price of raw materials, whose irregular progress has lately caused the rhythms of capitalist accumulation to be disrupted.
A comparison of the successive cycles of accumulation in the various countries was summarised in table form followed by a commentary about the lack of synchronisation between them. It can be used to predict how the crisis may come to a head, with it originating in the United States but spreading to the entire planet, China included, over the next couple of years.
The speaker was also entrusted with the task of preparing a graphic representation of the series of historical statistics, which have been carefully assembled from previous party work. This will be presented at future general meetings.
Finally, in the report made at the last meeting, we were shown graphs
which covered the years 1929 to 2007, capturing the short cycles, average
growth in the short cycles, and the absolute maximum values which on occasion
were attained before the cycle’s end.
Origin of the trade unions in Italy
The aim of this ongoing study, which resumes at the point of the rebirth of the ‘post-fascist’ CGIL (General Confederation of Italian Workers), is to document what is a very important and complex subject in greater detail, adding to the substantial amount of research the party has already undertaken. The speaker had managed to track down a number of texts and transcriptions of interventions from the early conventions of the CGIL and he quoted extensively from these, accompanying them with a relevant commentary.
We hardly need emphasise the importance of this study, which needs to be a continuous feature of party life, indispensable as it is to identifying the correct directives which tomorrow’s communist fractions in the trade unions will give to the class when things gets moving again, but which even today it is important for today’s party to strive to anticipate, after having understood the complex dynamics and realities of the present class struggle.
A rereading of these documents confirms the historic course of the defensive organisations of the working class in Italy after the 2nd World War, which although besotted with anti-fascism were in reality the continuators of fascist goals and methods, and this was also the case within the lumbering Stalinist party and the big trade unions, even though they continued to talk about class struggle.
Even in purely defensive battles a general anti-capitalist stance is needed in order to provide effective leadership, and a political leadership that is impervious to appeals to national solidarity and is indifferent to capitalism’s own restrictive requirements.
So-called ‘workers’ participation’ or ‘industrial democracy’ is just to pull wool over the workers’ eyes. By the time of the post-war period Marxism had been denouncing this entirely erroneous and mistaken doctrine, whose pernicious consequences the workers knew only too well, for over a century. Legal recognition of the union is something the CGIL leaders also insist upon. Unravelling these knotty issues is something the working class has yet to tackle.
Our party newspaper during those years, Battaglia Comunista, was very clear in its condemnation of this bourgeois approach to trade unionism. In its pages we trace the evolution of the big trade union organisations in imperialism’s heyday: “tied to the state and the political organs of the new capitalist dictatorship as was formerly the case under fascism, although in a different form”. And in its pages we can also read about the consistent, committed activity of our workers’ groups which were organised at that time as fractions within the CGIL. Yet even enslaved as it was to the democratic regime and the bourgeoisie, the communists, as members of the CGIL, neglected no opportunity to steer anti-employer struggles in a class direction.
This chapter of the study concluded with the reading of a manifesto from 1945 in which the party urged workers “to unite in struggle”.
Our party’s present line on the trade union question, which considers
today’s big trade union confederations to be no longer retrievable or
of any use in the mounting of effective defensive actions, and which points
instead to the necessity of organising outside and against the CGIL, doesn’t
contradict the correctness of the earlier approach, which indeed the party
practised up until 1978, when the trade union struggles of that year would
prompt the adoption of our current line. Not that the CGIL back then was
any better than today’s; what has changed is that strike action since
the end of the 70s has been characterised by the fact that quite a few
groups of workers have been forced to organise outside the CGIL and almost
always in the face of the latter’s open and explicit sabotage.
Of all the passages from our fundamental text Capital, perhaps the 5th Part of the third volume, covering interest bearing capital, is the least structured and, seemingly, the most closely linked to the contingencies of 19th century financial capitalism. If ever the darts of critics and enemies of Marxism and Communism have ignored any aspect of our doctrine as expressed in Capital, then surely this is the most neglected. It contains difficult, tortuous passages and is clearly, ‘work in progress’.
This Part, based on notebooks reorganised by Engels after Marx’s death prior to publication in the third volume, relate in a stark and definitive way the origins and development of the financial form of capital (the law of its ending also being described and analysed in the third Part of the same volume).
The purpose of this and future reports is to re-present in its entirety a fundamental aspect of our critique, relating it as far as possible to the amazingly convoluted financial practices, seemingly so far removed from those of Marx and Engels’ time, which we see today.
Capitalism has undergone many more or less severe financial crises since it first appeared on the historical scene as the dominant mode of production. Some of these have been indicative of phases of reorganisation, others the expression of external and contingent circumstances, but then others again have been veritable earthquakes provoked by capitalism’s own internal contradictions.
After over a century of evolution of state economics into today’s alchemical manipulation of financial instruments, we thus feel obliged to demonstrate that not only have the essentials of financial capital not changed but neither has its form.
With that aim in view it was deemed useful, before embarking on an analysis of the text, to present a brief history of the last half-century of financial crises and the boundless extension of the stock market that are its inevitable concomitant. The speaker commenced with a series of quotations from John Maynard Keynes, from 1936, with the aim of defining the influence, and also the limitations, of speculation in the field of finance-which today is described as the primary source of all capitalism’s woes whilst in fact, at least up to a point, it is an effect rather than a cause. As an inevitable reference point the 1929 ‘mother of all crises’, which radiated out from the USA and affected the rest of the capitalist world, was also described. From this crucial period in the history of capitalism the key phenomena were identified, that is, those that appear as constants in the crises of greatest magnitude.
The speaker then went on to describe how, after the recovery, the conditions which favoured global conflict matured, and how the 1941 Lend and Lease Act was used by the USA to get its financial claws into Europe’s declining imperialism, and bind even future competitors to their credit. Finally it was described how, with the Bretton Woods Agreements and the system of the Gold Exchange Standard, the USA became the dominant power, not just militarily but on the financial plane too, and with the institution of the International Monetary Fund became the arbiter of the financial systems of other states as well.
Continuing through the various stages, there was then a description of the conditions that brought about the end of the Gold Standard system and finally the liberalisation of the capital market. The effects of the piling up on the European markets of the enormous dollar revenues derived from the oil trade (the so-called ‘petrodollars’) were then described, along with the concomitant smaller crises due to extremely heavy speculation in the 70s.
Finally, the speaker mentioned the uninterrupted series of crises, from the extremely disruptive and serious one in 1987 (‘Black Monday’) through to those in the 90s, namely: the collapse of the EMS in ’92 with repercussions on the Italian Lira and the Pound Sterling; the crash in the Mexican bonds market in ’94; the collapse of the Asian ‘tiger economies’ in ’97 triggered by speculation on the Thai currency – a seemingly marginal event, in a second division financial theatre. In 1998, the Russian debenture loans crisis, which served to detonate the Russian empire’s state crisis; and in 2000, the bankruptcy of Argentina and the bursting of the so-called New Economy ‘bubble’, which destroyed a large number of small capitals to the advantage of the big financial systems; and finally, the great business slump in 2002 and the still ongoing events around land loans.
The key concept, however, that this summary exposition of 80 years of financial history aimed to highlight is that those crises that our doctrine defines as “general crises of capitalism”, and which we stubbornly insist will happen, shouldn’t be expected to arise as a result of the deeds and misdeeds described and analysed in Part 5, but rather from the law enunciated in Part 3. To hope that the crash will happen as a result of the financial crises is, if not illusory, at least misplaced. The ‘final’ financial crisis will happen, we are certain of that, but it will happen as an effect of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall: as a result, that is, of phenomena in the productive and commercial fields.
With this introduction under our belts, at the next meeting we continued our study of the third book of Capital and examined chapters 16, 17 and 18 from the Fourth Part – which concern the transformation of commodity capital and money capital into merchant’s capital – with an analysis of commercial profit and notes on commercial capital.
At the Genoa Meeting we moved on to examine chapter 21 from Part Five, relating to interest-bearing capital and the division of profit into interest and profit of enterprise.
The September 2008 meeting took place just as the latest financial crisis broke out and hit the global economy, serving as a timely reminder that the exposition given in the Third Book of Capital fits perfectly with the mind-bogglingly vicious reality of financial capitalism in the new millennium.
The report continued the analytical description of the autonomous interest-bearing form of capital and the process by which interest becomes independent in relation to profit. The central thesis, corollary of the more general law of surplus value, is that interest is a part of profit. This relationship of interest to profit in which the former is contained within the latter condenses Marx’s, and our, entire investigation and critique of today’s society of loans, banks and finance.
At the January 2009 meeting we instead looked at the fundamental law of Part 3, the law of the tendential fall in the rate of profit and of its consequences, which we hold to be the prime mover of the overwhelming crisis that is currently shaking the financial system to its foundations.
By way of providing empirical evidence to back up the commentary two charts were presented to the assembled comrades which depicted the finances of the United States. The first one showed the changing relationship over the period 1925 to 2008 between “overall debt” and “gross domestic product”, i.e., how many dollars of debt have been, and are currently, necessary to produce a dollar of product. The second chart, the reciprocal of the first, showed how many dollars were produced by each dollar of debt between 1966 and 2008.
Leaving aside differences between the two, due to data having been obtained from different sources and probably via different methods of calculation, the first chart showed an extremely steep rise from the 80s onward, until in 2008 four dollars of debt are indicated as being required to produce each dollar of GDP. The second chart, showed a reciprocal constant fall, today showing at around a third of a dollar return for each dollar invested. Even if the data doesn’t coincide the tendency is unequivocal. The crisis could not have a clearer explanation.
If we have entered terrain that is not ours, that is entirely in the
hands of our adversaries, it is to demonstrate the consistency of our doctrine,
of our schema, which after being around for a hundred and fifty years,
and leaving aside obvious technical changes – credit cards are not encountered
until the end of the 1800s, nor telematic transactions, and so on – can
still perfectly account for the current situation.
The “Peace process”
in Northern Ireland
At the Genoa meeting in 2007 we listened to an update on the Irish question,
prepared by an English speaking comrade. The full version has been published
in Communist Left, no.27/8.
Imperialism in Iraq
The war in Iraq was certainly also fought because of the oil, as Greenspan admits. But now that the ‘dictator’ has been overthrown, the aim isn’t to ensure ‘free trade’ in oil, rather it is to ensure it is controlled by the United States, whose goal for decades has been to fix its price and control its supply in order to protect its global hegemony.
But this war, which is being pursued so tenaciously by Washington, doesn’t have much to offer the local inhabitants.
On the economic front it isn’t good news for the imperialism from across the Atlantic. The new Iraqi oil law is strongly supported by Washington because it is considered a useful means of getting its hands on the on-off tap once and for all. But it might also stabilise the country by distributing the oil revenue more equally across the various communities and regions. The law however has been held up in parliament for several months now and hasn’t been approved because strongly opposed by the Kurdish parties, who think they might be deprived of some of their current revenue; and by the Sunni and nationalist parties, who are opposed to the selling-off of the oil to foreign companies.
The government of the Kurdish regions has struck out on its own, signing contracts with foreign companies and defending its right to exploit the oil extracted in the region. It is calculated that over the course of the following year Kurdistan could extract around 200,000 barrels a day from the new wells on its Turkish border.
Even the ‘free’ trade union of employees in the oil sector has expressed its opposition to the law and a strike was declared last June, which although illegal was successful. According to its president “the central government of Iraq should be sole proprietor and have complete control of the production and export of oil”; to which the Iraqi government replied by outlawing the union and threatening its leaders with arrest.
On the military plane, the withdrawal, actually a retreat, of the British contingent from Basra, which lies at the heart of the Iraqi oil industry, was a harsh blow to the Americans. The British contingent, who after ‘secret’ agreements with the Mahdi’s army, with Moqtada al Sadr’s and other Shiite militias, had been reduced from the original 45,000 who took part in the occupation of the country to just around 5,000 men, abandoned its positions in the city centre and entrenched itself in the area around the airport, with the prospect of getting out of Iraq in the not too distant future and with just 1,500 men left in post, whose purpose, they say, would be to train the Iraqi troops.
The British move, which they would like us to believe was derived from ‘agreements’ with the Iraqi government, couldn’t in fact have been deferred any longer because of the situation the British troops were in, holed up in the ex-palace of Saddam Hussein on the banks of the Shatt el Arab, and suddenly finding themselves literally under siege. Hence London’s decision to adhere to the requests of the Iraqi government, which declared itself in favour of taking direct control of the city. But the problem is that in the province of Basra only 4,000 soldiers are available, it seems, to take control of a city of more than two million inhabitants in which battles between armed bands are the order of the day.
London’s decision to withdraw has created serious problems for the United States army because the loss of control of Basra, situated in the South, means that its supply routes from Kuwait to the North are rendered vulnerable; added to which there is the risk of losing control of this port from which virtually all of Iraq’s crude oil is exported.
Even high-ranking officers directly involved in the war are entertaining serious doubts about the possibility of continuing ‘to hold’ the territory with the forces currently available, whilst the politicians are convinced that there is no alternative to war and that withdrawing from Iraq would be a unacceptable defeat.
At present it is difficult to know what the Pentagon is planning to
do in the short term, but it is becoming increasingly evident that the
present situation will not be sustainable for much longer. It is a matter
of either relinquishing Iraq, or re-igniting and possibly intensifying
the war, maybe even trying to take a chunk out of Iran as well, which is
being accused of equipping fringe movements of the Shiite resistance in
of the American Labour Movement
The report took up from the 1830s, a decade which saw a revival of trade-union activity in reaction to the sharp decline in working class living conditions.
An aid to social conservatism and an obstacle to class struggle arrived in the shape of various utopian schemes, with Fourierism and Owenism proving particularly successful in America. This was also the age of co-operativism, which became popular here just as it was declining in Europe; at least insofar as it was an ideology which could replace direct struggle with capitalism. During these tortuous years there was also no lack of religious movements, which preached abstinence and resignation to God in order to keep the workers’ discontent in check.
Only the economic recovery, which began in 1844, would prompt a recovery of workers’ associationism. Meanwhile, the country was being populated with new waves of emigrants. Amongst the many different groups the most conspicuous were the Germans, who were in general specialised workers, literate and often politically active, and the Irish, who were mainly ex-peasants and illiterate.
At the end of the 1840s, along with the final regurgitations of utopianism, communistic doctrines would also appear on the scene, including those propounded by Weitling, who would found a workers’ organisation and newspaper. But Weitling, who would eventually settle in the country, didn’t really believe in the trade union struggle, he merely used it in order to unite the workers behind his co-operative projects and his own brand of utopian communism. Eventually he would alienate his initial following.
In 1851 Joseph Weydemeyer, communist revolutionary and friend of Marx and Engels, would arrive in America. Soon he was engaged in polemics with Weitling, demonstrating that not only was ‘revolutionary co-operativism’ an unattainable utopia, but that it served to divide the workers.
In 1853 the American Labor Union was formed by the German workers, and its declared aim was to unite all workers without distinction of race, language, craft or political opinion. But even if to begin with it did attain a certain following amongst English speaking workers, it soon came up against the indifference of the craft unions towards other categories, and therefore with a movement which was still immature in that respect; in addition many native workers were infected with the disease of ‘nativism’ spread about by the American Party.
In the South the main source of labour power was slaves, who lived in appalling conditions and at the mercy of their owners and their slave-drivers who could dispose of their lives as they pleased.
Towards the end of the 50s the oligarchy in the South was faced with a level of discontent which increasingly risked being translated into a class war. The choice they made was to prevent the development of a home-grown industry in the South at any cost; a myopic choice which may have breathed life into the planters’ regime for a short time but for which they would pay for dearly over the course of the war.
In the North the working class didn’t take much convincing that the continuation of slavery within the Union would threaten the living conditions of all proletarians. Since the Southern planters were demanding it be made legal in the new Western territories, how long would it be before it was introduced in the North? Thus the workers, historically linked to the Democratic Party, started to support the anti-slavery party, and even the party of opposition, the Republican Party, which had arisen from the ashes of the Whig party but now had abolitionism added to its programme, along with economic measures dear to the hearts of the industrial bourgeoisie of the North and supported by proletarians. Amongst the North’s supporters in the proletarian camp, immigrants, particularly those of German and Scandinavian origin, were very conspicuous, many of whom were influenced by Weydemeyer and his Communist Club.
The war, even if the trade union struggle and working conditions were badly affected, was welcomed by proletarians (including those in the Southern States), who shared the objectives of the republican North. But it wasn’t just the workers in America who were enthusiastic opponents of slavery; on the other side of the Atlantic the defeat of the South was also seen as a progressive objective for the workers’ movement too.
In the immediate post-war period the need for political representation
started to make itself felt, partly inspired by European example. Thus
in 1866 some leaders of the big unions organised a convention. The national
convention at Baltimore picked up on all the main points on the agenda
of the American labour movement, and which would remain so over the ensuing
decades (8 hour day, organisation of unskilled workers, economic struggles).
In the years that followed the new organisation, the National Labor Union,
would also broach the women’s question and that of the coloured workers,
even if they didn’t manage to resolve them.
Towards a History
The study which condensed a range of topics under the heading ‘the Jewish Question’ was finally brought to a close, but followed at the next meeting by the first part of a new study, linked to the former, on the subject of religion.
In principle all religions and traditions are part and parcel of the evolution of the human species. We are not saying that we want to reclaim them to some extent, but rather that in the historical scheme of dialectical materialism the past is an integral part of the ‘inexorable’ process that leads to communism. In that sense we aren’t religious, no matter how sublime any religion might appear to be, or give itself the air of being.
Marxism places itself on the highest theoretical plane and engages in polemics not only with the more vulgar expressions of present-day capitalism but also with its most conspicuous manifestations in the realm of thought; its attempts to deal not only with the great questions of the day but of the future as well. We deny that capitalism has the capacity to plan the future according to criteria which are advantageous to the species as a whole. It is the responsibility of our tradition to perform that task, or we could say of our … “religion”.
Communism means, in an etymological sense, fullness and communality of life, possible only if every artificial separation between the components of the species is removed. Communism recognises that the primitive natural organicity of man has to be re-established in the name of the full unfolding of the potentiality of modern society, which with capitalism has reached the apex of technical development at the same time as it is has fragmented society like never before.
The communist project forecasts a species based society, certainly never before tried out on a large scale but already operating inside the party. And if this might prompt a smug smile from our enemies, it is because they have resigned themselves to the idea that all there is to life is competition and struggle.
For the time being communism exists within the confines of a small group, but by connecting itself with history, by seeing itself as continuity of that tradition that enabled power to be taken, it need never feel alone. And yet this tiny minority runs the risk of not passing on the baton to future generations if it commits the following errors: 1) not practicing genuine organic centralism; 2) allowing internal political struggle; 3) fooling itself it can exist as a tribe apart without linking up with the proletarian movement, however weak it may be.
Also, our current doesn’t want to just defend a methodology but rather to systematically discover the processes and the modalities of the various realms of human experience which have brought humanity from its origins all the way to the tumultuous present.
Have we managed to lay the essential basis for such a task? We have certainly done what we can, but ours is a work in progress which we believe can only come to fruition under the communist scheme of social life. So can nothing be done until then? Not a bit of it, our semi-finished products, even if such they remain, are legion, and we don’t renounce any of them.
If historical reality is a process of becoming then we must make a distinction between the various forms of society that have succeeded one another over the course of history. The religious superstructure isn’t the same in primitive communism as it is in the ancient societies dominated by slave owners, or in the more modern feudal and later bourgeois societies. If these differences are ignored only the shallowest and most irrelevant generalisations can be made. As we have stated clearly elsewhere in our theses, myth and religion form all-encompassing super-structural systems, which remain valid for whole historical periods but not for all time.
The “religion” of early man expresses his perception of the primal connection: man is a social being, a bundle of relations that don’t appear later on but are there from the start. Those who instead claim the primacy of the abstract individual are taking a line that is neither scientific nor sustainable in anthropological terms.
The great debate that has been raging for over a century about the crisis in the West regards us not so much because we wish to defend Western culture, but because communism cannot neglect reality, and deny that it was in the occident that the school of thought arose that today postulates the ending of the forms of life and social production which have culminated in imperialist capitalism.
In the current phase, with the thesis of the ‘clash of civilizations’ seemingly re-confirmed, they would like to bury the concrete reality of actual, material forms and conditions under the weight of ideas.
Towards such philosophies of history our position is well known: it isn’t philosophy that is the maker of history but exactly the opposite, even if at a certain level the mutual interchange between theory and action means they end up bouncing off each other and interacting rather than remaining mutually indifferent.
Truth as Wholeness penetrates the species memory not just from
the culture of the so-called West, but especially from the East. The Italian
word for truth, ‘Vero’, derives from an Indo-European term meaning:
“that possessing all the attributes of its nature”. This means the
species has preserved the memory, albeit unconsciously, of its original
state of Oneness, of primitive communism. In this conception all individuals
had an organic connection to their species, or to the community of which
they were a part. Our model sets out from the presupposition that capitalism
won’t be overcome by opposing bourgeois idealism with a humanistic anthropology,
but will arise from the possibility-necessity of its being overturned in
practice, so that the individual person can reconnect with all of his or
her potentialities as a worker, exercising a range of different capabilities
and no longer condemned to any one specialisation.
in the Middle East
This report took up the previous investigation into the history of Lebanon written at the time of the Israeli invasion of the country and presented at the General Meeting in December 2006.
That war, which was preceded by an extensive bombardment of the whole of southern Lebanon and the city of Beirut, was responsible for hundreds of civilian casualties and yet didn’t fulfil its objective, which was to deal a death blow to Hezbollah, the Shiite militia which is accused of being the long arm of Iran and Syria. What it did do instead was actually reinforce the Shiite party’s hold over the proletarian masses, over the refugees, the disinherited and the petty bourgeoisie.
With the aim of reconstructing a chronology of Lebanon’s recent history we revisited a brief summary furnished by our Parisian comrades with the initial aim of comparing bourgeois historiography’s new data with the consistent interpretations drawn up by the party over the last fifty years.
Devoting attention to this small country of around 4 million people is not disproportionate. Our investigation, as is our custom, certainly analyses the complex relationships that exist between the various classes and the various states in the region, but it also draws out lessons of general validity relating to the many complex cases of national revolutions which were never completed, and which will never will be completed. The very detailed pamphlet we published on the Algerian revolution and the tragic events which followed can also be used to understand the parabola of other national revolutions, Vietnam for instance, which although victorious on the military plane were then caught in the grip of the world imperialist order.
Taking up the history of the Middle East from the middle of the last century, when European imperialism first got its hands on it, certain key issues were highlighted, namely: the struggle between the various imperialist states to divide up the spoils of the Ottoman Empire; the use of religious and ethnic minorities as ‘bridgeheads’ initially to gain a foothold in the region, then to break up the nationalist movement, then to ensnare the proletarian movement. Those same experiences likewise confirm that the workers and the disinherited can expect to find support and salvation only through their possession of an independent class organisation, entirely disavowing their submission to the nationalist cause, whether it appears in lay or religious guise.
The national cause in the various micro-countries of the region is without the material basis, both in a quantitative and qualitative sense, to establish itself and win: in those countries the bourgeois national revolution has aborted. Only the proletariat has the objective historical possibility of identifying itself as a class with its own viable program; of usefully taking up arms in defence of its living and working conditions, of rejecting solidarity with the bourgeoisie and the clergy, of perceiving the proletarians of all countries as its brothers and sisters. Its revolutionary and socialist insurrection is the only real threat to the bourgeoisie.
Evidence of this social polarisation started to appear in Lebanon in the seventies during the civil war, at which point the armies, hitherto enemies of Israel and Syria, joined together in order to terrorize proletarians with the massacres in ‘Quarantined’ Beirut, and with the Sabra and Chatila massacres.
Today the bourgeoisie of the fragile Lebanese State wants to involve the proletariat in another armed struggle by drawing it into an alliance with one of the two imperialist fronts, either the United States-Israeli or the Russian-Iranian-Syrian one.
And since in addition imperialism has made sure a balance of power is kept between the various components that make up Lebanese society and their armed representatives the possibility of consolidation at the state level has been rendered even more remote.
And yet the country isn’t amongst the poorest in the region and a substantial stratum of proletarians have managed to find work there, many of them descended from the Palestinian refugees who arrived in 1949.
It is therefore a clear case of a modern working class struggle taking place in a non-national political-institutional setting in which the bourgeois class has neither completed, nor can complete, its national revolution. Thus the patriotic, liberal, democratic-parliamentary phase in these countries is neither something one should expect, nor something to raise as a demand to be realised. The communist, proletarian movement here finds itself having to extricate itself on the one hand from a network of inherited cultural legacies and leftover relics of castes and semi-tribal groupings, and on the other from capitalist oppression and modern economic commercial relations.
The next party meeting, at the beginning of 2009, took place a few days after the conclusion of ‘operation melted lead’, carried out by the Israeli army against the people of the Gaza Strip.
With the help of detailed maps of the battle zone, the speaker reconstructed the different phases of what we have referred to in our press as a ‘police operation’ against the proletariat. Analysis of events has revealed that the army units and the Israeli police didn’t struck a decisive blow at the military apparatus of Hamas, rather the land offensive was directed above all against the civilian population with the aim of spreading terror. The occupying forces were brought to a halt at the periphery of the centres of habitation in order not to have to put to the test an army which is becoming increasingly unreliable and lacking conviction.
The Israeli state didn’t attack Gaza to achieve political or military objectives, rather it was because it is in the grip of an economic, political and social crisis and war represents the only way out, the same as for all its imperialist friends and enemies from America, Europe and Asia who are also necessarily slugging it out with each other in that geographical neck of the woods.
The comrade then retraced the main stages in the birth of the Palestinian
question, or Palestinian national question as many would have it,
although achieving nationhood has always been negated by History. The story
of that unfortunate people was retraced from the time of the foundation
of the state of Israel, at the end of the Second World War, and on to the
present situation, where we witness millions of Palestinians confined in
the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as though held in two huge prison camps,
with the Israeli military as the prison guards and the Palestinian authorities
as the governors.
Toward a History
A schematic outline of the plan for this new work was read out at the meeting.
There is a correlation between the growth in the productive power of labour, the succession of social forms and revolutions in man’s perception of the world.
The science of the Greeks sets out with whole numbers and geometry, and with these it reads and interprets the cosmos. Such an inspired leap forward in the development of thought (which to us appears ‘mystical’) isn’t able to explain bodies in motion, or forces.
In Galileo’s work, velocity as well as space is relative to the observer, the series of successive positions of bodies in space is related to varying time. Space is ‘a function of time’. We move from geometry and the static to kinematics and dynamics.
Another leap forward in the realm of consciousness is brought about by Einstein.
A schematic representation of scientific research in Einstein’s work is, ascending: from experiment to theory; descending: from theory to laws, returning finally to testing by experiment. The first step relies on ‘imagination’ (see our ‘In morte di A. Einstein’, Programma Comunista, 1955, no. 9). Science commences with an act of intuition, an emotional or psychological impulse. The process of convincing oneself and others involves a whole series of sentiments, and is determined by historical-social factors of an ‘aesthetic’, pre-rational nature: simplicity, elegance, essentiality, harmony, beauty, strength. Or, if you like, emotions and ‘morals’. You have ‘faith’ in a scientific theory.
From Karl Marx’s theory of value, which is not ‘demonstrable’ but ‘cannot not be true’, we ‘redescend’ to the law of the fall in the rate of Profit, and its ‘reproducible’ empirical verification, i.e., repeated economic crises provide more than enough evidence.
Indeed the theory of value has become generally established, like Galileo’s theories despite the papal tribunals in Rome. Not even the bourgeoisie has ever wished, or been able, to deny them; no-one has ever said “They are not true!” Instead they just ignore them, mystify them or bury them under piles of ideas that are total rubbish.
Newton seems more ‘mechanical’ than Galileo, with his schema of the universe as a machine, with the celestial bodies held together as though in a network of springs and tie rods. He was of his time, at the dawning of the machine age: man thinks ‘with his hands’ (but not his individual hands). Today it seems everything is ‘information’, even in the realm of physics. But the man who thinks doesn’t precede the man who works. At the peak of the age of mercantilism what is perceived is a market-universe, where gravitational attraction is a transaction between two masses taken two by two.
Modern physics introduces the concept of the ‘field’: matter per se generates a field, independently of whether other masses exist within it. Communist doctrine, and the party which ‘detains’ its theory, also generates a field: it exists, informs and deforms the social space even if no-one is listening.
The ‘space-time’ discovered by Albert Einstein at the beginning of the 20th century – the three special dimensions ‘interwoven’ with the fourth which is time – is the environment, the ‘conscious dimension’, within which man under communism will ‘sense’ he is living. Man having re-appropriated time.
Today the fourth dimension, time, has been sequestered by Capital. The forbidden dimension because Capital has taken men’s time from them. Capital is the monster that never sleeps, that knows no differentiation of the seasons. Time is Money!
The party can make incursions into the future, can travel in time. That
is why Marxists are never in a hurry. Communist man can ‘see’ and ‘live’
past centuries in the same way a geologist can see millions of years clearly
set out before him, can see cataclysms and slow erosions, and seas and
waves and the deep abyss where mountains now stand.
Trade union activity
At all of our meetings we consider it a priority to update comrades on current developments in the realm of workers’ struggle and organisation, and to report back if the party has been able to intervene within them, describing how it went about such an essential task.
The economic situation, particularly in Europe, is not such as to favour working class power on the limited plane of the trade union struggle. At the moment unemployment and lack of job security is making it very difficult to resist the bosses’ drive to reduce salaries and lengthen the working day.
Today, what is more, we have to contend with the noxious odours arising from the corpse of the so-called parliamentary and trade-union ‘radical left’, and this causes further confusion by preventing a sound orientation of the working class. Everything done and said is directed towards drawing workers into this decomposition and decay, which in fact is only the latest, but not necessarily the last, consequence of a betrayal that happened a long time ago and which has nothing to do with the proletariat and its defensive struggles, let alone with communism.
This doesn’t mean that the party renounces its work of entering the
struggle through any chink that appears, in order to bring its influence
on the class to bear.
The origins of
At the January 2009 meeting, by way of introduction to a new study on
the origins of the Chinese Communist Party, there were readings of some
of the documents which emerged from the founding meetings held in Shanghai
and Beijing in 1920. The work, which will include the republication of
these early texts, will aim to capture the situation of the working class
in China and its road to organisation, which would include the formation
of a communist minority which maintained links with the Third International.
One of the most visible aspects of the Spanish Civil War was without doubt the widespread agrarian collectivisation, which arose spontaneously and existed in an infinite variety of forms within the republican zone.
The main lesson of the war in Spain, as far as our current is concerned, is that the lack of the class party, and therefore of the clear will to destroy the capitalist state and install its revolutionary dictatorship, led the Spanish proletariat into one of the worst defeats in the history of the world working class. All the organisations of the proletariat renounced the class struggle in order to rush to the defence of capitalism and bourgeois democracy.
During the 19th century the liberal process of allocation of common land meant the ancestral lands of the peasant communities were mostly auctioned off, obviously benefiting the bourgeoisie to the detriment of poor peasants.
The coming of the 2nd Republic with its demagogic promises, a necessity for capitalism in a predominantly agrarian country affected by grave economic and social crises, would open a period of spasmodic peasant revolts, betrayed by its political representatives in Madrid.
The outbreak of the Civil War prompted the peasantry, in an almost instinctive way, to collectivise the vast majority of the landed estates of the great landowners. It was the final flare-up of agrarian collectivism, yet in the absence of a revolutionary, communist class perspective the flames were destined, inevitably, to be put out.
The agrarian collectives, despite the undeniably better standard of living obtained by their members, for the most part day labourers and poor peasants, still operated nevertheless within the mercantile, capitalist environment, as long as political power remained in the hands of the bourgeoisie.
Of particular relevance in the gradual dissolution of the collectives was the openly counter-revolutionary policy of Stalinism, which, expressing the interests of the Russia capitalist state, acted as an out and out anti-proletarian police force at the international level.
A correct communist, proletarian policy, directed essentially toward establishing the dictatorship of the proletarian class alone and of its one party, would instead have been obliged to support such an armed movement of poor and landless peasants – even if in itself, in terms of their class aspirations, they were caught between the preservation of past forms and the capitalist and enterprise based management of the land – in order to channel their combative force against the State of the capitalists and the landowners in order to violently overthrow it.