A critical press review
in selfies from internationalist sites
Since October an international wave of social struggles hit several countries all over the globe. This press review tries to show its reflection in websites that defend proletarian internationalism as understood by the Communist Left in its struggle against the degeneration of the Comintern.
The group Barbaria, that mainly publishes in Spanish, translated into English their Balance sheet and perspective of the current proletarian struggles all over the world (1), a text that was reproduced by Třídní Válka, and at Libcom by Guerre de Classe. (2) Without referring to other groups, larger parts of this text give an overview of a general agreement on the actual social struggles that seems to develop between most groups that refer to the Communist Left:
The struggles are social struggles, because “stemming from the immediate, human needs of our class.”
The different “immediate needs tend to generalize and go beyond the reason that caused the initial spark.”
These social struggles may “open the historical perspective, still distant, of the social revolution, of communism.” However “an insurrectionary period would require a conscious determination, a program, a will recognized by our class: in short, a reversal of the praxis that needs a higher level of organization and that needs a party.”
Catalonia is not included in these social struggles, seen a “process totally located on the terrain of national liberation” and the “criterion for determining the nature of a movement is not its violent or non-violent character (…) but what it denies and challenges: one nation State is not denied by building another. Kurdistan is another good example of this.”
As a general historic context, following elements are seen:
“We are entering the beginning of an epochal change characterized by the confrontation between the classes, putting an end to the long retreat”, but when having to mention a year or even a decade, differences between sites show up.
“Capitalism has reached a dead end. We are entering a period of social revolution because capitalism is exhausted as ….” and here again differences.
“The waves of struggle that emerge worldwide” (differences) have “a common protagonist: the old mole of the revolution that strongly claims its needs and interests.”
“What the movement says is important, but what the movement does is more important now, as long as the struggle arises from the immediate needs of our class: something very different from the nationalist or political-electoral struggles that move completely on the terrain of bourgeois politics.”
It is however at this latter point, that – from struggle to struggle – differences in analyses show up, as seen before on the movement of ‘Yellow Vests’. With some simplification it is the difference between those that, because of its social composition, declare a movement proletarian, including the growing unemployed part of the population, and those that, because of its slogans and demands (what its says and … does), call it inter-class – with possibly some proletarian tendencies, as I would describe the ‘Yellow Vests’ – or proletarian, or bourgeois. Barbaria excludes Catalonia for its explicit aim of independence from Madrid, but mentions Hong Kong in its summing up of social struggles. But don’t demonstrators in Hong Kong agree upon the demand to maintain independence from mainland China?
To be clear, for Barbaria “That is why the questions of theoretical and programmatic clarification are so important today”, and it is for this reason this review of the ‘press’ is written. Time to go into detail. But therefore I have to address other sites.
1. Hong Kong and the limits of inter-class revolts
Contrary to Barbaria, the International Communist Current (ICC) and the International Communist Party (ICP) were very clear from the start on the inter-class character of the street protests in Hong Kong. See the section Selected Articles & News Feeds in issue #4 of ‘A Free Retriever’s Digest’(pages 6 and 7) and the excellent article of the ICP (Le Prolétaire), starting on its back cover (3), from which the essential analysis is as follows: “The social extent and duration of this movement show that its causes are much deeper than the mere opposition to a bill: they are social causes. (…) Just like similar movements in other countries, Hong Kong’s movement is not the signal for the proletarian class struggle yet (…). For this, it will imperatively have to free itself from the popular or national coalitions of which it is prisoner, break with its subordination to bourgeois and petty bourgeois orientations, and find its class weapons again by unifying its struggles across the borders.”
The ICC – as often – used a remarkably idealist argument in its article Massive street protests in Hong Kong: Democratic illusions are a dangerous trap for the proletariat (4): “No matter how massive they were and no matter how many workers participated in them, the street protests were not a manifestation of working class struggle. In Hong Kong the proletariat was not engaged in a struggle as an autonomous class. On the contrary: the workers of Hong Kong were completely overwhelmed by and drowned in a mass of citizens.” (bold by us) Unsurprisingly, not understanding the process of organization and consciousness of the proletariat from class in itself to class for itself, the ICC shows no perspective.
The International Communist Tendency (ICT), in an general article on several inter-class struggles, signed ER, Global Protests: The Relentless Capitalist Crisis Demands the Overthrow of the System (5), mentions the struggles in Hong Kong between others as “mass street protests (…) spreading across several sections of the population (…) mass protests-cum-rebellions which have no clear class character (…). In and of themselves they cannot come up with a solution. For a start, the very quality that initially poses a threat to the existing political set-up: their diverse social and class interests ensure that eventually the movement will crack, leaving the working class and the dispossessed feeling betrayed whilst the downwardly mobile professional classes and petty bourgeois end up as supporters of the new ruling elite. An even worse and real possibility is that the whole movement descends into nationalism and any working class element becomes subsumed to local capitalist interests, in which case the potential for international working class solidarity and the possibility of extending the international revolutionary political organization is undermined. (The protests in Lebanon, Iraq, and Ecuador for example, are replete with national flag waving.)” From this analysis the ICT shows its perspective: “to put forward an internationalist, class perspective. This, without any illusions about being able to change the direction of current protests, but with the perspective of having an organized presence in the wider struggles yet to come. This is not a pious hope. In Chile there were some attempts to set up local committees to coordinate the struggle in working class districts whilst in Iran last year Haft Tapeh workers were calling for the re-establishment of workers’ councils.” (27-10-2019)
Not being able to go into the national details of all social struggles of the last months (6), I will focus here on some general features.
2. Chile, violence
With an article on Chile: The dictatorship/democracy alternative is a dead-end, signed “ICC, November 1 2019” (7), this organization announced a text on “the emergence of numerous social movements in several countries on different continents: Lebanon, Iraq, Ecuador, Bolivia, Haiti, Guinea, Algeria.” The fact that it lasted until the last days of November before it could publish “Popular revolts” are no answer to world capitalism’s dive into crisis and misery (8), signed “Silvio”, means that the ICC as a whole (i.e. its central organs) didn’t explicitly give its agreement on the analyses, exactly as in the case of the ICT. The document still reflects the general attitude of the ICC. The introduction sets the tone by distinguishing three ‘worlds’:
“In the ‘rich’ countries, planned job losses in the near future are piling up, particularly in Germany and Britain. Some so-called ‘emergent’ countries such as Brazil, Argentina, Turkey, are already in recession with all that this implies for the aggravation of the living conditions of the proletariat. As to the countries that are neither ‘rich’ nor ‘emergent’, their situation is even worse. The non-exploiting elements in these places are plunged into an endless misery. These latter countries particularly have recently been the theatre of popular movements … Such movements have taken place in Chile, Ecuador, Haiti, Iraq, Iran, Algeria and Lebanon.” (Bold by us)
By putting Chile on one line with Haiti, the ICC clearly fails in its effort a finding an economic basis for its differentiation between countries with potential dominance of “working class”, “proletariat” and “non-exploiting elements”. According to Wikipedia “Chile is one of South America’s most stable and prosperous nations, leading Latin American nations in human development, competitiveness, income per capita, globalization, economic freedom, and low perception of corruption. Since July 2013, Chile is considered by the World Bank as a ‘high-income economy’.” (9)
The aforementioned article on Chile, “written by our comrades in Latin America”, is right to state “The idea that Chile was supposed to be an ‘exception’ in Latin America through its economy or the so-called ‘well-being’ of its working class is exposed as a lie.” But this doesn’t mean that Chile is at the level of Haiti. Workers in Spain and even France and the UK might recognize themselves in the ‘Neo-liberal’ situation of workers in Chile, that the article continues to describe: “average wages of 368 euros a month, generalized precarious working, the disproportionate cost of food and services, shortages in education, health and pensions which condemn retired workers to poverty. This is the reality which shows the growing degradation of living conditions of the working class and the whole of the population.”
2.1 Divisions in the proletariat, different worlds?
This example might demonstrate that the distinction the ICC makes within the Marxian concept of ‘working class’ (or its other term ‘proletariat’) between “workers” (probably the ICC means workers with permanent jobs), “proletarians” (unemployed?) and “non-exploiting elements” (this can mean anything from petty bourgeois and peasants to the ‘lumpen’) is not only arbitrary but also non-Marxist and dangerous because it makes concessions to the now out-fashioned bourgeois ideology of the ‘Third World’ that would save workers in the former ‘industrialized countries’ from the misery in the ‘second’ (Russian Bloc) and ‘third world’ (former colonial countries). In its introduction and conclusion to its article on Chile (see footnote 7), the ICC repeats its old myth of “the proletariat of the central countries of capitalism, that would bear “the great responsibility incumbent on, the most experienced when it comes to the traps laid by the bourgeoisie.” Or, as it continues even in the form of an absolute precondition: “the only force capable of showing the way towards the autonomous struggle of the world working class.” Here we can see that for the ICC nothing has changed in the last 100 years since the days of the Comintern when the German and Dutch Communist Left claimed this function for the proletariat of Europe against the backwardness of Russia where the workers were supported by masses of landless peasants.
The reality of world capitalism is that of one world of the proletariat, of ever greater masses dispossessed from their means of production, transformed into proletarians/workers, without capitalism being able to integrate the majority into its productive apparatus. Precarious working conditions undermine the position of ‘permanent’ workers. In several countries this process advances at different speeds. Dependent on bourgeois state policies (Neo-liberalism), the degree of industrialization and employment, the proportion of employed workers within the population, experiences with struggles and organization, the resulting class consciousness in the proletariat is different. Communists should analyze the generalization of conditions that world capitalism brings about and in how far this favors the generalization of proletarian struggles towards more and more class autonomy, understood as a process, and not as a precondition to proletarian struggles. Within its dogmatic framework, neither in its article signed “ICC, November 1” (footnote 7), nor in that signed “Silvio, November 17” (footnote 8), the ICC recognized what conflicted with its ‘theory’: the emergence of general assemblies (GA’s) during the social struggles in Chile, may be because they didn’t conform to the ICC’s ‘ideal’ of ‘pure’ autonomy. However, already in its article signed “27-10-2019”, (see footnote 5) the ICT, or at least comrade ER, did recognize the GA’s: “In Chile there were some attempts to set up local committees to coordinate the struggle in working class districts whilst in Iran last year Haft Tapeh workers were calling for the re-establishment of workers’ councils.” We’ll come back to Haft Tapeh later.
2.2 Chile: General Assemblies
More on self-organization in Chile can be found in “[Chile] Territorial assemblies: autonomous organs created by the community in struggle”, an article translated into German by the blog Kosmoprolet, who mentions Vamos hacia la vida as its source (“a blog that was born from the need to disseminate the materials that are emerging in the heat of the revolt in the Chilean region during the spring of 2019”). The origin I found is however Třídní Válka. (10) I quote from the English translation by Los Amigos de la Guerra de Clases:
“The first fruits to be yielded from the fertile terrain of the insurrection in Chile are the territorial assemblies, instances which are self-organized by the inhabitants of the whole country, as a channel for resolving the immediate needs of the struggle, and for its propagation. In them, the measures, prospects and demands of this movement are being debated. In many cases, with a character that is strongly anti-institutional and opposed to party-politics. The assemblies reflect, in an embryonic form, the real need of the proletariat to equip itself with organs of power representative of the class, that defend and impose its necessities until the last breath without compromising with the political establishment. (…) the assemblies are the autonomous expression of the community that self-organizes its needs and its struggle against the State and Capital. That’s why its functionality CANNOT be spent up in petitions or in the constituent assembly. (…) The Pandora’s box of social revolution has started to open and the task of creating territorial power has been put on the agenda. This has set off the alarms throughout the political establishment, from the Left to the Right, the entirety of bourgeois institutionality has pulled strings to wipe out or co-opt these autonomous instances of organization. Its main strategy is to lead the movement into its narrow framework of political representation, for this it has placed the ‘cabildos’ at its disposal [“town hall meetings”] that systematize the demands and ‘raise’ the petitions. Here the State is the only possible interlocutor and the possibilities of dialogue begin and end with the solutions it can give us. Let’s not allow the assemblies to become conveyor belts of the State.
(…) it is necessary and URGENT that these assemblies be extended to the workplaces, mainly to the strategic productive sectors. That they posit the radical questioning of the capitalist way of life to its final consequences and that the prospects of production be transferred from infinite capitalization to the satisfaction of human needs. Historical examples such as the Cordons Industriales or the Comandos Comunales can be vital in order to grasp the transition which we are seeing out. No change will be possible if we, the workers, do not hold in our hands the power over the means of survival and of production, if we do not empower ourselves with the wealth we generate in order to decide ‘how’ and ‘for what reason’ to produce. It is not about learning how to govern and self-manage Capital; it is about creating a new way of life. The whole economy depends on us and they will tremble when they understand that we have come to realize that.
History has shown us that the State, as a way of guaranteeing living conditions, will always be a way of guaranteeing the domination of one class by another, of perpetuating Capitalism. With or without a change of constitution, the State will always watch over the perpetuation of exploitation, leaving intact the real bases of everything: private property and wage labor. In the heat of this struggle, we are creating our own tools to depose the existent and forge a new world. The prelude to revolution has already begun.
ALL POWER TO THE TERRITORIAL ASSEMBLIES!” (Underlined by us)
Here we see that, in a positive and concrete way, both the ICT (by mentioning Haft Tapeh in Iran) and an unknown group in Chile make clear why it is important to the social struggle for employed proletarians, at the work places, to come into movement, and that they call for it. By contrast, the ICC denies the efforts made in Chile, in Iran, (India constitutes another example, as I will show). The proletariat, in an imaginary “Third World”, is expected to wait for the workers in the old and former industrial centers to come to save these “non-exploiting elements” instead of advancing its struggles. We should clearly say what this attitude is: it is a new edition of Menshevism towards a part of the world proletariat that is a supposed to be “Third World”. At the same time the ICC spreads propaganda for a new edition of the disregards by the “workers aristocracy” towards the “underdeveloped” and “primitive” proletariat that doesn’t enjoy bourgeois democracy nor the crumbs from super-profits of monopoly capital. To be clear, the idea that the proletariat in the richer countries is safe from the attacks of a crisis-ridden capitalism, is a sheer illusion that should be vehemently fought by communists.
2.3 Grumpy old men
What the ICC does recognize in the social struggle all over the world are the dangers of bourgeois ideology, mainly democracy and nationalism, dangers that are understood and fought by others as well, and even better. We should realize that bourgeois ideology will influence the proletariat for a long time, even after the revolution, and that as communists generally we should fight bourgeois ideology by propaganda, that is mainly negative in the sense that it denounces the bourgeoisie, reacts to what it does and says. But in contrast to these general situations of capitalist ‘normality’, where propaganda is most functional, the main chances to beat bourgeois ideology are in open class struggle, most of all when the bourgeoisie shows its weaknesses, when the bourgeoisie is obliged to reveal its class interest, certainly when the initiative is on the proletarian side. This is why in such a situation, even when, and exactly because the workers at work are still hesitating, an effective, concrete, understandable communist agitation is essential, showing the next step, speaking out clearly what the class thinks and says in a still confused way. The actual social struggles are for greater part such a situation. Knowing the history of class struggle, as communists we know from events before the outbreak of the Russian and German Revolutions that movements in which soldiers, the young and women are prominent – as actually can be seen in bigger parts of the world – show unique chances for movements of the workers in their working places.
As arguments for the need of a movement of the workers in their working places, the ICT in its text of October 27 (“Global Protests …”, footnote 5) warned against the “focus on getting rid of established ‘elites’ in the hope of creating a more just world” followed by five paragraphs on the meaning of capitalism, its historic and actual crisis, and the need of an internationalist proletarian perspective. I already cited above the arguments given in “[Chile] Territorial assemblies: autonomous organs created by the community in struggle” (footnote 10).
Reading the articles of the ICC one is struck by the negative tone – like that of grumpy old men who lost contact with the outside world – with titles like (find the old men’s words) “‘Popular revolts’ are no answer to world capitalism’s dive into crisis and misery” and “The dictatorship/democracy alternative is a dead-end”, and headings as “Exasperation faced with the plunge into yet more misery”, “The impotence of these movements; the repression and manoeuvres of the bourgeoisie”, “The trilogy of inter-classism, democratic demands, and blind violence.” The general impression that a reader gains from these articles is one of the ICC’s own desperation, projected into these movements. (11) It identifies these movements of resistance against capital and the state, with the decomposition of capitalism and even the ‘lumpen’. It condemns the violence with which these social struggles attacked the forces of repression, and does so in the name of working class violence. This concept remains an empty abstraction, leaving nothing behind with its readers than pacifism. If the ICC had recognized the tendencies towards autonomous organization, where workers can discuss how best to use violence in their class interests, it would have had the chance to explain what proletarian class violence actually and concretely means — as I will show further in this article when we deal with Iraq and Iran. (To be continued)
F.C., December 19, 2019.
Final proofreading and corrections: December 29, 2019
1 Barbaria, November 26, 2019. This group can be categorized as “anarcho-communist”, referring to a wide range of political currents, but not clearly to the Communist Left.
3 A Widespread but Inter-Class Movement – ‘Le Prolétaire’ on the popular protests in Hong Kong (August 14, 2019)
4 ICC Online, August 4, 2019.
5 ICT, October 30, 2019.
6 The ICP (Le Prolétaire) has published excellent analyses of the social revolts in several countries, all well documented and substantiated , in order of appearance: Coup d’État civico-militaire en Bolivie. Ni Morales, ni Mesa-Camacho, ni l’armée ! Pour l’indépendance de classe ! Pour la lutte révolutionnaire prolétarienne ! (13-11-2019); Haïti : l’explosion sociale secoue l’ordre bourgeois et le joug impérialiste (20-11-2019); Luttes des masses prolétariennes en Colombie: Pour une orientation et une organisation de classe! (29-11-2019); Algérie : Non à la mascarade électorale et aux illusions démocratiques, oui à la lutte de classe prolétarienne contre le capitalisme ! (10-12-2019).
7 ICC – Online, November 15, 2019.
8 ICC – International Review, November 28, 2019.
10 Třídní Válka, October 30, 2019 (Page under construction).
11 The same is true for a website near to the ICC, Internationalist Voice, that in Street Protests and the Barbarism of Capitalism: Long Live Class Struggle! brings forwards its own version of Third World-ism: “Metropolitan capitalism is attempting to shift the burden of this catastrophe to peripheral capitalist countries in order to ensure they shoulder the most destructive impacts of this ruinous transition.” Apart from this theoretical weakness, it is very disappointing to see that when Internationalist Voice in the past gave detailed information about class struggle in Iran, it is satisfied now with perspectives consisting of mere generalities and an idealist vision on class autonomy.