The year of 2011 ended with, as a backdrop, a brutal accentuation of the structural crisis of the capitalist mode of production, its “domino” effect provoked by globalization and the interdependence of the different national economies, as well as the multiple reactions of protest some of which are new, like those of the “Arab Spring,” “Los Indignados,” and the Occupy Movements.
There is no automatic connection between the effects of the economic crisis and the development of struggles and of class consciousness. Nevertheless, the situation of the global economy raises questions in a much more fundamental way about the general historical stakes: the future of capitalism, the perspectives for the survival of the planet and of humanity, the global economic and political perspectives in this world dominated more and more overtly by violence of all kinds.
This quotation from Lukács indeed summarizes the current situation and the historical stakes. On the one hand, a ruling class trapped by the need to manage increasingly profound contradictions within its economic system, confronted with the loss of power of its ideologies (the loss of any meaning to left ideologies), compelled to more and more show the true face of capitalism: relentless in its violence, its destructiveness and its absence of perspectives. On the other hand, a proletariat which, in spite of its mistakes, its illusions, its defeats, its corporatism, etc., reacts by breaking with established and traditional forms across the whole planet, reactions which more and more clearly begin to put in question the global functioning of society.
The ruling class globally is confronted by an unprecedented debt crisis, and by the tensions that have arisen with respect to the strategies with which to confront it with the least risk. It is the countries of the Euro-zone that find themselves under the greatest pressure now: international financial organs are demanding drastic austerity measures on the part of European states to limit the cycle of growing debt. It is the very existence of the Euro-zone that is now in question! But governments are now confronted by the devastating effects of austerity – the impact on consumption and therefore on the prospects for any economic recovery, as well as by the social consequences of a direct and brutal attack on living standards. Even so, right-wing factions, technocrats, are now in the governments in Italy and in Greece, and in Spain the left has been defeated at the polls, and in all three extremely harsh austerity measures are being implemented.
What constitutes the backdrop to the current social situation, then, is a growing tension and an unveiling of the historical stakes of “fundamental change or barbarism,” as well as a growing link between different movements of revolt. There is, then, a connection between the deepening of the economic contradictions and class reactions, between the movements in the Maghreb and that of the “Indignados,” and the Occupy Movements, between the austerity measures of the governments and the questioning especially within the ranks of young people…. Even if these movements are not organized in a coordinated way, they interact - by their content, and by the very oppositional dynamic that they create - with one another. They refer to each other. And the potential that this creates, associated with the questioning of society, is fundamental for the understanding of the system as a totality.
Occupy protester with a warning for capital
Recently, numerous strikes and protests have unfolded in the European countries in reaction to the drastic austerity plans that the states are now constrained to adopt to try to respond to the debt crisis and to the risk of sovereign debt defaults. Here too, what is new, is the perspective: whereas it was not so long ago that one still spoke about the “welfare state” and that social conflicts opposed the workers to bosses, the conflicts that are unfolding now oppose workers to their state, and even to an overall European policy. And even if these movements still contain the illusion that with “another administration,” or perhaps an exit from the euro zone, things would be better, they are all inscribed in a much more generalized, and therefore potentially more unifying, dynamic. There is also a potential loss of illusions in the capitalist system itself: the “pearls” of the global economy, the richest countries in the world, are running out of “gas” and are confronted with the same kind of problems as governments in the “emerging” economies. The economies of the first world are basket cases, the European states can no longer re-finance their debts and are on the verge of bankruptcy: it’s quite an image with which capitalism now provides us!
It is within this framework of austerity plans that the youth “revolt” exploded on the scene. Young proletarians, young students, young Greeks, French or English, those once scorned for their purported individual selfishness and living in the day, are today fighting with the weapons of their parents, in a collective way, engaging in self-organization; fighting against measures which attack them in their daily life, but also attack, in a general way, their very future in this society. It is clear that in a very important way this is integrally linked to the global questioning of the perspectives that the current system offers and thus represents a potential for the development of political consciousness. Moreover, we have long insisted on the notion of the experience of struggle and the traces that these latter have left. We have often emphasized the historical break that exists between the traditions of struggle of “the old working class” and that of the recomposed proletariat of today. The movements of revolt of the generation of the future thus represents a possible link between forms of “traditional” organization (General Assemblies, the rediscovery of older political writings) and the “new forms of struggle” with their use of modern technologies and the new forms of organization of work to which they are linked.
The task ahead
We will not here focus on all the strikes and the demonstrations that are shaking the planet. IP has discussed them at length in each of its last issues.
But there are two movements that are important for us to focus on: the “Arab Spring” and movement of “Los Indignados:” the latter arising, in a certain manner, from the former. (The Occupy Movements in the US are the subject of a separate article in this issue.)
The “Arab Spring” constituted a formidable experience of collective struggle; it made it possible for its participants to feel the power of mass action in such a confrontation. These movements also mixed proletarian opposition (against the high cost of living and unemployment, etc.) with reformist demands (democracy, elections, etc.). But the dynamic concretized in these movements, born in Tunisia, spread like a wild fire through the Maghreb countries, into Yemen, then into Syria, Libya and as far as China. They contain, in spite of their inter-class character and their reformist illusions, a potential for a more fundamental questioning of the core structures of society. And this questioning is certainly not over, since after the euphoria of “victory” comes the bitterness of disillusion: the revenge exacted in the sentences meted out to corrupt leaders, the hopes in “democratic” governments “acting for the people,” begin to give way to a progressive clarification of the real stakes, the class stakes. The Egyptian army is no longer the ally of the people, but indeed the coercive force guaranteeing the security of the ruling class and the continuation of the old way of social functioning; the economic situation is just as hard and the daily life of the majority of the population has not changed. Our hope is that this progressive loss of illusions will leave its trace on the collective movements and that they will then be able to re-ignite in a dynamic of a more fundamental break. We spoke about young people, of the bridge they represent between traditional forms of organization of struggles and the new practices resulting from the use of modern technologies. The movements which started in Tunisia and which then spread were marked by this same characteristic and one can bet that the extremely rapid circulation of information and the call to mobilize which mobile phones and the Internet permit will be a given in future movements.
Now to the movement born of “Los Indignados.” The dynamic was born in Spain. “Citizens” protested against the degradation of living conditions and, in particular, against the evictions of working class tenants from their housing. Little by little, this spontaneous opposition was transformed into an organized solidarity and a questioning of the ruling class as a whole. General Assemblies were created in many Spanish cities. Places where one could speak freely, where collective expression of the rejection of the functioning of economic and political life was possible, where the will to re -appropriate the very field of political organization appeared, and all sprang into life.
What is remarkable is the development of this current “of indignation”. From Spain, it passed to France, Belgium, Germany, Great Britain, Greece then, crossed the Atlantic to establish itself in New York, Oakland, Seattle, Toronto, and throughout North America. Clearly, this current of opposition to the economic system is the very image of the economic system itself: it’s global. It constitutes a real potential for the development of the political consciousness and understanding of the capitalist mode of production as a totality, connecting, on a planetary level, economic, political, social, and environmental components
The ruling class clearly grasped the danger of this current and it deployed the whole of its coercive and ideological arsenal to counter it. On the one hand, the police violently dislodged “Los Indignados”, as soon as the situation allowed. In addition, the trade unions proposed their good and loyal services to try to occupy and isolate a space of authentic popular opposition.
Nevertheless, the three principal elements which can be extrapolated from the current social situation are: the continuation of oppositional currents as a break with normal functioning on an international scale; the deepening of the questioning about the perspectives for capitalism, and its expression in social and political movements; the support of specific movements by others with the dynamic of connection which it implies.
These three elements indicate, in spite of contradictory tendencies (reformist illusions, the recrudescence of identity politics or religious ideologies), the development of a class consciousness on an international scale.
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