This issue of Internationalist Perspective brings together the two fundamental questions at stake in the present historical conjuncture: first, the understanding of the functioning of the world economic system, and the mortal contradictions to which it is prey; second, the development of social conflicts. It is not an accident that these two questions are brought together in our publication, because they constitute the concretization of the opposition between the two basic classes in society, and demonstrate the antagonistic character of the relations between them. The link between these two questions is also a reflection of how the class consciousness of the proletariat develops in relationship to the deepening of the world economic crisis. Our editorial, therefore, will focus on one of these questions: the continuation of social conflicts and their general significance.
In issue number 29, we had already emphasized the importance of the social movements which were unfolding throughout the world, but most particularly in Europe. We could discern general tendencies which were expressed in these diverse movements, and we spoke at that time about the opening of a "new period" for the class struggle. By 1995, we had asserted that the working class had again embarked on the path of class struggle, breaking with the long period of decline of such struggles. The working class, disoriented by the defeats of prior waves of struggle, isolated by factory or sector, had not been able to defend itself against the attacks directed at their conditions of life and labor. Those reactions that did occur were indicative of an incapacity on the part of the proletariat to meet the challenge, and allowed the international ruling class to bask in a period of social calm. That situation appeared to confirm the theses of the ideologues who claimed that there was a definitive disappearance of classes and their mutual antagonisms; claims which eliminated the very notion of a proletariat, replacing it with the vision of a classless society united behind the defense of a triumphant "democratic" capitalism. Communism was no longer seen as the perspective of a society in the service of the needs of humanity, but simply as a term to describe the state capitalist regimes which had ruled Russia and the Eastern bloc. On the bases of such a perspective, the workers had only a single choice: accept the reality of the economic crisis of capitalism, with its "law" of factory closures, restructurations, and unemployment, as chronic elements of the functioning of society.
The social conflicts which have broken out, starting in 1994, have, therefore, shattered this logic of submission by the workers to the perspectives offered by their exploiters. They mark a profound break with the pure and simple acceptance of the logic of capital, and thus contain the possibility of an awakening of class consciousness. Such an awakening of class consciousness, however, is not a given, but rather a process initiated by the activity of humans. And if class consciousness does not cease to exist, and makes its way in a subterranean fashion between moments of open class struggle, it is nonetheless in those very struggles that it affirms itself and develops. Besides the renewal of class struggle, we must also insist upon the numerous questions which it has posed for the very functioning of society both on the economic and on the social planes. As an echo of such questions, the idea that the perspectives of the ruling class and those of the exploited classes are completely divergent has also resurfaced. It is only through the understanding of the antagonistic character of the fundamental interests of these two classes that the consciousness of a single proletarian class can be forged.
As an example, we can turn to the very center of Europe, where in one small country all of these experiences and questions have been manifest. Belgium has been jolted by strikes and upheavals which have gone beyond sectoral and national divisions, as well as the simple defense of one's job. A series of factory closures, as well as the multiplication of "political scandals" (culminating in the exposure of an organized network of pedophiles and murderers protected by the ruling class) has begun to reveal the true nature of a system, completely corrupted, concerned only with its own self-perpetuation, and which -- in the service of its own needs -- transforms the human being into a commodity that one utilizes and then throws away. In particular, the closure of the Renault plant at Vilvorde constitutes a caricature of the objectives of capital. Here was a highly productive plant, a model of working class submission to the needs of capital (inasmuch as the workers had accepted flexible work schedules resulting in their spending nine hours on the line), sacrificed to the profit interests of the Renault group as a global entity. Other examples are provided in the south of Belgium, plants have been closed from one day to the next in order to see their production picked up by other countries judged more ripe for capitalist exploitation.
The result has been the multiplication of strikes, marches for jobs, etc., in which the solidarity goes beyond the straitjacket of political frontiers, all inscribed in the long road that leads to the understanding of the social relations operating in capitalism as a global system. What is at issue in all of these strikes and demonstrations is the question of perspectives: what perspectives can this society offer us; what future can it provide for its youth? These are the questions raised today in Belgium, as they were raised in the strike movements which raged in France in December 1995 - January 1996. Similarly, the so-called "white march" in Brussels which brought together 200,000 persons, and which had been preceded by reactions in several working class sectors, bore witness -- in however confused a manner -- to the popular discontent and disgust over the reality of the functioning of the bourgeois judicial apparatus in the face of the involvement of officials of the key political parties in the protection of those engaged in pedophilia, kidnapping, and murder.
These reactions are crucial, but they have not yet led to the elaboration of new perspectives for the working class. The workers, despite the real combativity which they have demonstrated, as well as their will to transcend sectorial issues, have not yet succeeded in transforming that potential into an dynamic which puts in question the global functioning of the capitalist economic system. The struggles remain under the control of the unions, which have succeeded in preventing their generalization. the same is true for the white march which, if it demonstrated the popular indignation and contempt for the bourgeois judicial and political apparatus, still permitted the bourgeoisie to contain this protest within the democratic framework of a state apparatus which simply required modernizing and cleansing.
If the Belgian spring was a moment for the cristalization of these different questions, struggles have now affected dozens of countries around the globe. And if that simultaneity is certainly not -- yet -- the result of a conscious dynamic, it does constitute a refusal to accept the violent and incessant attacks perpetrated by a capitalist class increasingly faced by the contradictions of its own economic system.
Today, it appears more and more clearly that the deepening of the economic crisis is the decisive factor in shaping the existence of the two basic classes in society. The ruling class bears the effects of the convulsions of its economic system, and adopts the measures necessary to preserve and defend its position: the exploitation of the workers of the Third World, the closure of -- even productive -- factories in the industrial metropoles, ruthless cutting of social security, welfare, education, widespread ecological destruction; all leading to insecurity, pauperization, and generalized barbarism. The exploited class seeks to live, and, therefore, not be continually threatened by unemployment, insecurity, reductions in its standard of living, and the general degradation of the social and physical environment. There are two directions, two opposite roads, which are opened up by every social conflict. In any economic demand put forward by the workers, the potential exists for a development of the consciousness that the global capitalist economic system is at odds with the needs, and the very existence, of humanity. The perspectives which are posed, even in a confused fashion, today, contain the historic possibility of creating a society which is based on the satisfaction of human needs.
No system is eternal! Contrary to what the dominant ideology claims, capitalism has not always existed, nor will it always exist. It corresponds to a phase in the development of the forces of production, and almost from the beginning of this century it has suffered ever deeper economic crises pointing towards the perspective of its replacement by another system. It has left us, today, with a level of development of the productive forces which for the first time in history can permit us to eliminate scarcity. It is the exploited class which, through the experience accumulated in moments of strikes and revolts, can concretize the perspective of the creation of a communist society; not another form of capitalist exploitation, as was the state capitalism of Russia, falsely designated by the bourgoisie as "communism," but the communism prefigured by Marx, that of a classless society, from which exploitation had been eliminated. The progressive clarification of the possibilities and the stakes contained within its struggles will lead the exploited, and the working class in particular, to sharpen its political goals. We know that the road is still very long, filled with the danger of recuperation by the dominant ideology and the capitalist class. However, the small steps taken today bear the imprint of the long process of the development of class consciousness, and the passage from a class-in-itself to a class-for-itself.Rose
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