The present period is characterized by an intensification of the confrontation between the economic and political functioning imposed by the capitalist mode of production and the protests and opposition to that functioning.
Since 2008, the economic crisis has deepened very profound sharply, revealing more and more the destructive mechanisms and global perspectives of world capitalism. The contradictions within the system continue to grow and now a number of states are near financial collapse. This situation is unprecedented. This is the end of any illusions about a “welfare state;” it’s the reign of brutal attack and generalized austerity plans.
For Internationalist Perspective, there is no automatic link between the effects of the economic crisis and development of struggle, or between the development of struggle and the development of class consciousness. Nevertheless, the accentuation of the global crisis has indeed generated increased protest movements. This confirms what we have emphasized in several recent issues of IP: that this situation of increasing tension has led to a more fundamental questioning about the general, historical, stakes: the future of capitalism, the prospects for the survival of the planet and of humanity, the global economic and political perspectives in a world dominated more and more openly by violence of all kinds.
The opposition to the manifestations of the crisis, the questioning about the functioning of the system has been expressed through strikes and demonstrations, but also in new forms and here we can refer to the movements that have animated the “Arab Spring”, the movement of the “indignados” (the outraged) across Europe, and now to the “Occupy Movement.”
Given this diversity of expressions, we have to ask ourselves two questions: that of the class nature of these reactions: are they proletarian reactions, and the potential contained in these various expressions of discontent. And the two questions are not necessarily linked, reflecting the complexity of the current situation. Thus, the transformations that we must consider in assessing the oppositional movements include the re-composition of the proletariat and the existence of definitively excluded masses, the “dis-employed,” from the system. We have already noted that the proletariat of today has seen its composition transformed by the evolution of the capitalist mode of production. On the one hand, elements formerly belonging to what used to be considered the “middle classes” have been proletarianized, and on the other hand, those excluded from the labor force are no longer simply a reserve army of the unemployed who will be reintegrated into the labor process, but now exist as a marginalized mass, often living in a kind of parallel economy. Given this diversity and complexity of the composition of the proletariat and, therefore, of expressions of opposition and protest, we must pose the question of class nature in a different way than in the past. Previously class movements were those of “blue collar” workers and we tended to use specific criteria to define the class nature of a movement: was the movement characterized by self-organization, outside of the unions, etc. Today, the multiplicity of forms of work organization, the heterogeneous composition of the proletariat, pose the question of class nature more in terms of the dynamic of oppositional movements.
These questions about the re-composition of the proletariat, the “new forms of struggle”, the dynamic as a criterion for understanding the class nature of a struggle, should all find a prominent place in discussions within the pro-revolutionary milieu because they seem to me to be fundamental ones. These questions regularly arise: through the youth movements in the European suburbs, food riots in Africa, looting in the UK this past summer. There are real issues here that the pro-revolutionary milieu needs to understand. Because with the issue of how to understand a movement comes the question: does one support it or critique it?
The first expression of resistance to the effects of the crisis consists of the development of waves of proletarian strikes and demonstrations at the point of production. These are movements affecting all continents, reactions against low wages, job losses, a rising cost of living, lack of shelter, etc., in short, movements as a direct reaction to capitalist exploitation. As an example, we should note the wave of strike movements taking place in China. On the one hand, these movements are almost constant, often violent, massive in scale, and have put in question crucial aspects of capitalist exploitation. Thus, the Chinese ruling class has been forced to raise overall wages and to minimally reduce some of the enormous pressures hitherto exerted on workers. This is extremely important not only for the workers themselves, but for the capitalists too. We know that the frantic growth of the Chinese economy has depended mainly on low wages and extremely long hours of work. The incessant movements of class revolt and the reductions in the direct pressure exerted on the proletariat thus have a negative impact on corporate profits in China, and, therefore, on this country that has been such an engine for the global economy. Another aspect to point to is the growth in the confidence in its collective strength that even these small gains confer on the Chinese proletariat.
Revolt in Wukan, China December 2011
On the other hand, numerous strikes and protests have unfolded in European countries in reaction to the drastic austerity plans that governments have had to take to try to stem the debt crisis and the risk of sovereign debt bankruptcies. Here, what is new is the perspective: while not that long ago, people still talked about the “welfare state” and that social conflict pitted the workers against “bosses,” the conflicts taking place today now oppose workers to their state or even to an overall European policy crafted at the state level. And even if these movements are bearers of the illusion that another kind of management of the economy or an exit from the Euro- zone would be better, they still are inscribed in a much more widespread dynamic and therefore one that is potentially more unifying. There is also a potential loss of illusions related to the capitalist system itself: the “pearls” of the global economy, the jewels of the “rich” economic world are now threatened with collapse and face the same troubles as those states in the “emerging” countries.
It is within this context of austerity plans that we have seen appear on the stage of protest, “youth.” Young proletarians, young students, young Greeks, French or English, those that we said were raised on individual selfishness and immediacy are now struggling with the arms of their parents, as a group, sometimes with a concern for self-organization, against specific actions that attack their individual lives, but also, in general, their collective future in this society. Clearly this is part of a very significant overall questioning about the perspectives offered by the current system, and therefore represents a potential for the development of political consciousness. In addition, we need to also emphasize that importance of the experience of struggle experience and the traces left by these experiences. We have often emphasized the historical break between the tradition of struggle of the “old working class” and the recomposed proletariat of today. The movements of revolt of the generation of the future therefore represents a possible link between “classic” organizational forms (general assemblies, the rediscovery of classic political writings) and “new forms of struggle,” with the use of modern technologies and new forms of work organization.
Riots and looting are becoming omnipresent. This form of social breakdown deserves for more attention in the pro-revolutionary milieu than it has so far received. On the one hand, it will develop in the future with the increasing impoverishment of the masses and the existence of permanent exclusion from the system of production. On the other hand, it raises the question of an understanding of its content in each instance (one kind of “looting” is not the same as another!) and its possible links to class movements. Again, it seems that the internal dynamic of the movement is fundamental in assessing it. Thus, movements that attack other parts of the proletariat are not proletarian expressions. The looting that took place in the UK this past summer included some examples of this type of violent action directed within the class. And here I want to cite Merleau-Ponty (Adventures of the Dialectic, p. 76, first in a citation from Trotsky’s Their Morals and Ours, and then his own conclusion):
We cannot talk about social unrest without turning briefly to the movements of the “Arab Spring”. Not to go back over its history but to see what has become of them. It is clear that these movements have been a great experience of collective struggle, that they have allowed their participants to experience a real rapport de force between social actors and the power of mass action in such a confrontation. These movements mixed proletarian opposition (against high prices, unemployment) and reformist demands (democracy, “free” elections).
Today, after the euphoria of “victory” comes the bitterness of disillusion. The Egyptian army is no longer the ally of the people but the coercive force safeguarding the ruling class and the perpetuation of capitalist social functioning; the economic situation is still as hard as ever, and the everyday life of most people has not changed.
We have already pointed out that, as such, these movements could not lead to a conscious opposition to the capitalist mode of production. In the absence of a direct link with working class movements of large size, the mixture of class demands (against high prices, etc.) and reformist ones were likely to imprison the momentum of these protest movements within the logic of the capitalist system. This is what we are witnessing today: those who have little faith in reforms have sought a way out in emigration; those who still believe in reforms went to the polls en masse. We can hypothesize that the choice of Islamist parties reflected the hopes placed in them because of their image as being less “corrupt” and “close to the people.” We know the work of social support traditionally performed by Islamist organizations; they have created social networks that the state has not.
Protesters in Cairo February 10, 2012
But it would be unwise to draw any definitive conclusions about the movements of the “Arab Spring”. The experience of struggle they have provided, the hopes of change they generated, the complexity of their dynamic created may well provide a link to possible future class movements. We can surely expect that the economic situation will continue its ravages, and that proletarian demands in response to the effects of this crisis and of exploitation will again emerge.
Among the most unexpected movements of protest, we find the movements of the “indignados” and the “Occupy Movement”.
What seems important is to link the “indignados” to the movements of the “Arab Spring”. It should be noted in passing that this movement of “outrage” was born in a country, Spain, which has already had the experience of democracy after that of dictatorship, being thus a step further on than the countries of the “Arab Spring”. We have seen coexisting in these movements of “the outraged” illusions about “true” democracy, but also a dynamic of rejection of the economic and social relations, a questioning about how to reclaim the terrain of social and political life, how to change things, all within a framework of incessant collective discussion. And I think those are the positive elements that we have to point to. Not with naive enthusiasm, but because these movements are part of the backdrop of a much deeper global trend. Thus, seeing only the illusions in a democracy “more just, more participatory,” seeing only the expression of a frustrated petty bourgeoisie, would miss out on this potential for a fundamental questioning about the perspectives offered by capitalism.
The “Indignados” have taken a dynamic of protests already contained in germ in the “Arab Spring” and have further developed an opposition to the system and opened a society-wide questioning. It is clear that there is no organized generalization of this protest. On the contrary, things have happened in a sort of contagion between countries. The “outraged” movement sailed from Spain and has traveled to several countries in Europe and even to Israel.
Similarly, the “Occupy Movement” carried the same dynamic of protest and self-organization. Setting out from New York, it has spread to dozens of other American cities, and to Canada, Australia, and the UK.
What is significant in all these new expression of revolt is the questioning that they encompass. It is therefore not a question of flattering these movements, or of denying the illusions they contain. But rather that of recognizing that this questioning constitutes a fundamental process of awakening of the proletariat. Look and reflect about the world, the place that our class occupies, at the destructive perspectives that the capitalist system, as a global complex of social relations, offers to humankind. It is this dynamic that we have to understand, to support and to put into historical perspective. And here I want to cite Lukács (History and Class Consciousness, p. 68):
The fact that this questioning is accompanied by illusions, reformist responses, seems to me to reflect the fact that the development of political consciousness is a process: that is to say, a global, heterogeneous, uneven process. We know that clarity can only emerge from this confusion, through the experience of confrontation with the ruling class and the snares of its ideology. And, specifically, the reaction of the ruling class to these various movements is deployed on three levels: leadership, willingness to confront these expressions with police operations, the recuperation of oppositional aspirations like the G 1000 in Belgium, “popular” assemblies convoked by the government to meet for one day to “democratically” discuss issues of social concern.
And this work of various factions of the ruling class makes it even more necessary for our own work as pro-revolutionaries to support the dynamic of questioning and disruption that is being expressed today.
This question is fundamental for the development of understanding of the functioning of the capitalist mode of production as a global social relationship, for the understanding of its class antagonisms. The movements of the Arab spring, the “indignados” and the “Occupy Movement” have no perspective in and of themselves. On the contrary, the potential of questioning that they incarnate must be taken up by class movements. Too often, reactions that occur at points of production are limited to specific claims (wages, jobs). Political consciousness is a living phenomenon, heterogeneous, which nourishes itself from multiple experiences. So we can only say that the general questioning of the of capitalism begins in connection with strikes and demonstrations at the point of production, thereby placing demands in a much more comprehensive and general perspective
|Home||Issues of IP||Texts||Discussion||IP's French site||Links|