North Africa, the Middle East, China…
Which Movements for Which Perspective?

Since the beginning of the confrontations that are agitating the countries of North Africa, the Middle East and even China, the ruling class has conducted a frantic ideological campaign to reduce these protests to movements directed against their corrupt and tyrannical leaders. This ideological smokescreen, thrown up by the media, is an occasion, of course, for the international ruling class, to speak in praise of the political system in force in the European countries and America, a discourse draped in the defense of “human rights”. An analysis of the events, their context and their stakes shows that reality is much more complex and especially much more threatening for the world ruling class. Lately, the planes and ships sent by the United States and several European countries have benefited from these movements to try to get rid of the very uncontrollable Gaddafi, under the cover of the defense of oppressed populations.

The context….

This ground swell of confrontation started in January 2011 in Tunisia following the immolation of a young student selling fruit. But, if this very specific tragic event could serve to unleash such social upheavals, it is that it constituted the spark to set off the powder keg constituted by the misery, oppression and total absence of any perspective for the mass of the population. Indeed, the deepening of the world economic crisis, since 2008, has provoked a major degradation of living and working conditions in poor countries and frontal attacks through austerity plans, increases in unemployment, and the suppression of certain “social gains,” in the countries seen as “rich”. It is absolutely not about a localized crisis of certain fragile economies or resulting from management errors or the corruption of certain bankers as has been claimed, but is indeed a deep crisis testifying to more and more fundamental contradictions of the functioning of the capitalist mode of production.

It is the production of value that is the fundamental engine of this world economic system. The whole of the social, economic and political functioning of the system is thus subjected to the necessity of producing value and of making possible the accumulation and circulation of value.

In capitalist logic, the production of abstract wealth is the goal, and real, concrete wealth, the commodities placed at the disposal of society, are only the means. But the growth of the former depends on the growth of the latter. They must develop in tandem because commodities are composed of both: exchange value and use value. And it is the uneven development of capitalism, the generalization of its real domination on society, which separates them. The reduction in living labor in the process of production where increasingly more sophisticated technologies intervene, entails, on the one hand, a fall in the creation of exchange value and, on the other hand, an overproduction of use values which cannot be consumed in a productive way.

Today, this contradiction has become insurmountable. In the past, such crises of accumulation led to massive devalorizations in which superfluous capital and superfluous workers were destroyed on a grand scale. All the means used by capital in the past decades to try to contain the problem have only constituted one more serious threat for the survival of humanity, because of the necessary destruction, increasingly more fierce, to restore a stable basis for the accumulation of abstract value. The vertiginous growth of debt, the growth of the ideologies (religious, nationalist) against “the other,” the use by capital of social convulsions, provoked by its own crisis, to make war, the growth of environmental destruction, are all signs indicating that capitalism is going in a deadly direction.

But the capitalist class does not seek devalorization for its own sake. On the contrary, it tries to protect itself. For example, by reducing its costs, by laying off millions of workers, by reducing the wages of those who remain, by making them work harder, by reducing the state expenditure for the maintenance of the life of the increasing masses of those whose labor has become superfluous, all to create more room for the growth of profits. That results in the impoverishment of masses of proletarians. The prices of housing, energy and the products of necessities become out of reach.

We are thus facing a worldwide economy undermined by the dangers inherent in its very functioning. The consequences are marked both by the increasing level of bankruptcies of companies, and of the banks that hold unprecedented amounts of state debt, but also by the reduction in the volume of employment, wage levels, and everything designated as prior “social gains”. The current mode of economic functioning has no other perspective to offer to the world than that of the massive destruction of value, expulsion from the labor process and growing impoverishment. The current protest movements took off from that absence of perspective and reaction to economic and social pressures. The question for the ruling class is that of its capacity to maintain social control and to channel the social movements, which we will take up below.

The movements which are currently unfolding in the Maghreb, in the Middle East, in China… must thus be placed in this context of a major aggravation of the world economic crisis and its repercussions on the proletariat, working or unemployed. They express a revolt against price increases but also, and this is fundamental, against the complete absence of any perspective provided by the capitalist system. This absence of perspective appears more and more strongly and affects the whole planet.

Analysis of the movements….

Before speaking of the strengths or weaknesses of these movements, it is important to place them in the general dynamic of the reaction of the global proletariat against the exploitation and incessant degradation of its living and working conditions. In these movements, the international proletariat reaffirms its existence and its power of resistance and is a fundamental element when it raises questions about the future of humanity.

To return more specifically to the movements that began in January one can underline two characteristics in the current movements of revolt: their inter-class character and their form.

It is clear that the waves of fundamental opposition that are now shaking whole countries affect at the same time several layers of the population and a diverse series of demands. We are not here in the presence of a reaction against a specific austerity plan, or against the closings of companies, but rather the explosion against oppression, in all its forms. It is thus normal that mixed in these movements are the entire segments of the proletariat with their economic demands and segments of the middle-class with their democratic aspirations and their political illusions. Such a mixture should thus not make us forget the presence of the proletariat in this dynamic, or minimize the significance of the movements. This inter-class character is also colored by the composition of the proletariat in the various countries affected. For example, if Egypt has industrial zones and a proletariat that manifested itself recently during violent strikes, the Tunisian economy is based more on service firms.

Thus, the movements of revolt which are now agitating North Africa, the Middle East and China express at the same time the refusal of the misery generated by the capitalist mode of production, the search for new perspectives, but also the illusion of political hopes in a change of political leaders. They therefore reflect the difficulty for the world proletariat to emerge as a class with distinct interests from those of the ruling class and to envision a new society that breaks with the economic, social and political mode of functioning of capitalism.

The whole issue of “democratic transformations,” while they reflect the attempts of the exploited class to free itself from police terror and brutal repression, also raises the question of the most adequate forms of social control for the ruling class. Indeed, as we emphasized above, what constitutes the heart of the functioning of capitalism is the accumulation and circulation of value. Everything that can block this process is thus a threat to the very existence of the capitalist mode of production, such as the strikes and all the actions that block this production and this circulation of value. The strategy of the ruling class thus consists at the same time in finding the best forms of social control to avoid any obstacle to the process of valorization, but in the event of social “fires,” to identify the kinds of demands that can be conceded without calling into question the sacrosanct law of value.

The belief in a “democratic solution” is not generalized and the masses of emigrants trying to reach the coasts of the Italian island of Lampedusa from Tunisia shows that the prospect of political change does not constitute a perspective for survival for a large number of proletarians.

In connection with “democracy” the attitude of the international bourgeoisies was exemplary vis-à-vis the social events now occurring. The American and European leaders for decades supported the tyrants now banished because they constituted a tool for effective social control for the safeguarding of American and European economic interests. Once these tyrants started to become too fragile pawns, even, too cumbersome, the American and European leaders played another card: that of the “circuit breaker” in the person of new leaders set up as a lightening rod to protect against social dissatisfaction. In addition, as we already observed in other countries where authoritarian regimes predominated, the forms of “democratic” organization of the state appear more adapted, because more flexible, to the requirements of the production and circulation of value. Where the weight of a bureaucracy, of a rigid state control, came to burden commercial exchanges, the structures of neo-liberalism had shown themselves to be much more efficient. In addition, on the level of social control, the diffuse and more discrete control of the democratic regimes is shown, there too, to be much more effective than that of a political system which has only brute force to ensure its domination. The “democratic” bourgeois system produces more adherence than authoritarian systems.

The aspirations present in the protest movements for more freedom and more “democratic” modes are thus to be seen in this context. Democracy, like all the institutions composing the capitalist system, transforms itself, thus following the transformations of the mode of production itself. The democracy of 2011 is no longer the democracy of the 19th century.

We witnessed rather caricatural reversals in the attitude of some European bourgeoisies and the example of French diplomacy and its sweeping declarations revealed a 360 ° turn in the adaptation of the ruling class.

In the same way, as we already mentioned, NATO and the Atlantic Alliance, after a late but heroic turnaround, decided to intervene militarily in Libya. Whereas recently, Gaddafi was pandered to due to his oil wealth and juicy commercial contracts, this same Gaddafi is now denounced as the insane bloodthirsty person who murders his own population. What a discovery! When we see the late character of this intervention as well as the confusion, even contradictions, in the statement of the mission of this intervention and its limits, one can easily see that it is indeed the protection of its strategic interests, political and economic, which underlies this “humane” awakening.

The situation is indeed very delicate: a major oil production zone, all the Near and Middle-East is prey to popular movements which threaten an already fragile equilibrium in this significant area. It is a question, for the ruling classes of the “democratic” countries to protect their economic interests, to undertake an ideological discourse for the promotion of democracy, to support the modernization of obsolete political regimes, while not provoking a situation of generalized chaos that would go against American and European economic and strategic interests. That’s what explains this mixture of intervention and wait-and-see policy in the current policy of the “democratic” countries. To that, must be added the typical situation of the United States already tied down in Iraq and by the war in Afghanistan and which thus chose to thrust the European countries into the forefront in Libya -- countries already enmeshed in rivalries and strategic divergences.

A second element should be highlighted related to these movements and their particular form. On several occasions, IP had pointed to the “new forms of struggles”. The characteristics that we had focused on at the time are again to be found in the current movements, and for example, in the whole series of movements which mobilized the young Greeks, French or Londoners a few months ago. Thus, we no longer await movements organized around political parties, with long term perspectives, but rather more transitory regroupings made possible by communication technologies (cell phones and Internet networks), conceived as diffuse protests and without a particular political coloration. The young people, arranged a long time in the category of the “whatever generation”, tinted by nihilism and individualism, are often now at the cutting edge of the confrontations.

But the current movements are important on another level: they constitute an experience of collective struggle, the capacity to oppose, the capacity to say “no”, to reject the established order. For many of the protesters, these actions constitute the first expression of their opposition to that order, and their comprehension of the power of mass action. These experiences, combined with the questioning of perspectives, will not fail to leave important traces for the future development of the political consciousness of the proletariat.

Lastly, we cannot finish without saying a word about the situation in China. We pointed out that the protest movement started in Tunisia and extended like a Tsunami to the Maghreb countries, to Yemen, to the Middle East. But the winds of anger blew as far as China where they met a social situation that had been agitated for many years. IP showed in the last issue of its review, how the social movements which have unfolded in China clearly affect the proletariat which opposes the appalling conditions of exploitation to which it is subjected and which constitutes the basis of the economic development of the country. And the fact that China has now been contaminated by the North African movements is significant in more than one way. On the one hand, it shows -- if it were still necessary for some to be convinced -- the reactivity of the world proletariat which can thus be set ablaze by the least spark. In addition, and this relates to the longer-term perspectives, the capacity of opposition of the proletariat to its living and working conditions constitutes the real and single threat to the continuation of the functioning of the capitalist mode of production. It is in that respect that the proletariat represents the fundamental contradiction within the system: a class at the same time necessary to it, but with completely opposed interests, it has the capacity to call into question the very process of production and circulation of value, to threaten the profits which the capitalist leaders garner by means of the pressure on wages.

To conclude…

It is clear that the preservation of this system, whatever its specific political and economic forms, can only generate increased misery, wars, destruction of the environment and, at the end of the day, a profound degradation of the conditions of existence of humankind.

The ground swell which started in Tunisia and has now spread to so many countries shows that the proletariat, even if it is mingled with other social classes, does not remain passive when faced by the degradation of its living and working conditions. But what continues to be posed, through these movements, is the question of the historical perspective. Basically, fierce exploitation, the destruction of the planet, wars, the massive expulsion of workers from the production process, increasing impoverishment, etc., remain the only and necessary perspective for the continued functioning of capitalism. No temporary improvement, whether it is economic or political, will slacken this increased pressure and that degradation. Only the putting into question of the actual bases of this society, namely, an economy based on the production of value, will be able to constitute a real questioning of the capitalist mode of production, and lead to a radically different perspective for humanity.


March 2011

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